2024 Leinster Rugby vs Northampton Saints - Semi Final

Investec Champions Cup: A Croke Park Special For Leinster And Northampton

Investec Champions Cup: A Croke Park Special For Leinster And Northampton

Preview this clash of titans, as Leinster Rugby takes on Northampton Saints in the Investec Champions Cup semifinals at the famous Croke Park Stadium.

May 3, 2024 by Philip Bendon

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The 2024 Investec Champions Cup semifinals are upon us, and with it, two spectacular days of rugby action are within touching distance.

Still standing heading into the weekend are the competition’s two most successful clubs, Leinster and Toulouse. They hold nine titles combined.

Looking to derail the old order are two high-flying English clubs in one-time champion Northampton and Harlequins.

Getting the action underway on Saturday afternoon, Leinster will host Northampton before Quins travel to Toulouse less than 24 hours later.

With the stage set and the teams raring to go all that remains is 160 minutes of top-class rugby action.

The Back Story 

Losing back-to-back finals has left a scar on the four-time champions from Dublin who will look to punch their ticket to the last dance once again this year.

Standing in their way is a red-hot Saints outfit that has dismissed all comers so far this season to sit atop both their Champions Cup pool and the Gallagher Premiership table.

While the stakes already were sky high, a return by Leinster to the iconic home of the Gaelic Games Croke Park for the first time since its dynasty started in 2009, adds another layer of spice to the fixture.

On that famous day in 2009, Leinster defeated arch-rival Munster to send the then-defending champions home in a result that shook up the natural order of Irish Rugby.

Thus, they will be hoping that 15 years later, a return to Croke Park will catapult them to yet another final.

Team Breakdown

Starting with the visitors, the Saints have produced arguably the most impressive attacking moments across all of the major leagues this season. Designed by former England utility back Sam Vesty, the Saints strike players are often dynamic and lethally effective.

Setting a strong platform up front with a mobile pack that routinely gets over the gainline, the Saints' electric backline has shredded defences from wall to wall.

Names such as George Furbank, Ollie Sleightholme, Alex Mitchell, Fin Smith, George Hendy, Tommy Freeman and Fraser Dingwall all could be key stars, not only for the Saints, but England over the next 5-10 years.

This weekend against arguably the most physical team in the tournament, the Saints and their star-studded back line will face a challenge unlike any they’ve seen to date.

Leinster’s pack has been tenacious, as was evidenced by its ruthless dismissal of former bogey team La Rochelle on two occasions this season. Behind the powerhouse pack, Leinster’s back line has always been ruthlessly efficient.

Leading this newfound brashness are the likes of Joe McCarthy and Ryan Baird, who both have taken major strides this season. 

Such has been the development of the behemoth pairing that they are two of the irreplaceable players in the Leinster XV. Working as a package deal, McCarthy’s physicality in the second row has offset the loss of James Ryan, who remains injured. More crucially, it frees up Baird to slot into the roaming backrow role that he so relishes.

Key Battle

Across the board, both sides are stacked with individual talent that forms exceptional collective units.

Picking just one battle is tough, with the halfback battle of Jamison Gibson-Park against Alex Mitchell being a front-runner. However, as touched upon above, Ryan Baird is truly beginning to fulfil his otherworldly potential.

Facing Baird is the veteran version of what he would hope to go on and become in England icon Courtney Lawes.

Achieving world-class status early in his career, Lawes has maintained a remarkable standard of performance across a 17-year professional career. During this period, he has played for England over 100 times and has played in six test matches for the British and Irish Lions.

Eleven years Lawes' junior, Baird is well on his way to a top-class career, and it is individual matchups like this that are crucial for his development. 

While Lawes has lost a slight step, he has made up for it as a cerebral leader who sees the game phases ahead. To match his experienced opponent, Baird will need to use every ounce of his exceptional athleticism.


There is no doubt that both sides are capable of cutting open a defense at a moment’s notice.

Picking the better back line is a challenge, to say the least, with both sides having incredible talent from 9 -15.

Thus, with there being little to choose between the two sides across the back line, it is in the forward pack where this one will be decided.

In this department, Leinster looks to have a relatively sizeable edge, in particular in the front row, where the first-choice Irish international front row will start, and the bulk of the second choice will come from the bench.

Should this trio of Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong get on top early, then it will be a long afternoon for the Saints, who will face three more internationals in Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Micahel Ala’Alatoa later in the contest.

Defensively, Leinster’s new Springbok style rush defense under coach Jacques Nienaber has the potential to suffocate an opponent, as the squad did to La Rochelle in the quarterfinal.

This defense, coupled with Leinster’s physicality, will limit the freedom that Saints halfbacks Alex Mitchell and Fin Smith have enjoyed so far this season. Should this happen, then the Saints backline will be working off scraps.

Mix in the Croke Park factor, and it is tough to see past a Leinster win, as they book yet another trip to the final. Leinster by 16.

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