Sunday, May 24, 2009

LEINSTER-19 LEICESTER-16



Cometh the hour, cometh Jonathan Sexton.

Early in the season, I’ll freely admit, I was the 23-year-old’s harshest critic – not because I doubted his ability, only his readiness for the highest stage. You won’t find a happier man than me to be proven wrong.

Sky’s commentators may have awarded the man-of-the-match honours to the mercurial Rocky Elsom, but I think if a real Irish network was covering the match as should have been the case, Sexton would have gotten the nod out of sheer relief that there seems to be a worthy successor to ROG ready to step up to the big occasion.

His kicking both from the hand and from the tee was nigh-on flawless. Even when he miskicked, as he did with the winning penalty, it seemed to go over. But also he showed a maturity in choice of options when receiving the ball from Whittaker that definitely wasn’t part of his game before Christmas, that’s for sure.

What can be said about his massive punt of a drop goal other than it was world-class??? I never thought I’d see anything to match Paul Warwick’s brace against the Ospreys in the quarterfinal but there we had one at Murrayfield.

My contention going into this match was that if we played like we did in Croke Park and Leicester matched their Twickenham showing from last week, we’d win comfortably. As it turned out, they kept their end of the bargain and although we were a notch or two below the semifinal display, we still had enough in reserve to stay ahead of our English opposition.

There was always going to be a spell where the Tigers got near our line, but in the end they needed an extra man on the park to cross over for a score. Dan Hipkiss’ strong burst through the middle got them into the danger zone, Stan Wright’s over-zealous tackle of Vesty got him sin-binned, and Shane Jennings had to be sacrificed which as always going to give them an edge in the loose which they capitalized on for Woods’ try.

Still, even 13-9 down at the break, I wasn’t too worried. Even when when Dupuy stretched it to 16-9. I knew we had a try in us, and that surely the bursts of speed from the likes of Rocky and Heaslip would pay dividends, and sure enough we got there and Jamie touched down and although the scores were now level we were back in the ascendancy.

Then, however, I started to worry, because our boys looked knackered from the 65th minute onwards. It was the end of a long season. Players were carrying the ball into tackles with little or no support and getting isolated which wasted good ball more than once.

Luckily, Leicester were tired as well and Sexton’s kick seemed to have been willed over the bar by the thousands of travelling Irish fans.

They may have gotten back at us late on if Vesty’s own kicking from the hand hadn’t become so poor. On three occassions he had chances to give his side possession in our 22 and each time he barely made the halfway line. That is food and drink to even a battle-weary Leinster defence which could smell their first major trophy.

And what a feeling it was when Nigel Owens' left arm was hoisted into the air after the 80 minutes were up to show we had a penalty and fittingly it was Sexton who ended the 2008/09 season in the best possible fashion.

One side note…I can’t say I’m a fan of this rubbing an opponent’s head when they’ve made a mistake, as Castrogiovanni did to Wright as he was walking towards the sin-bin. I hope that doesn’t become a regular feature in the sport.

But when all is said and done, my Leinster are the Champions of Europe, though our neighbours from the south will no doubt remind us that we’ll need another one to match them overall. Bring on next season so!!!

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