I just have two words for Leinster fans after this famous victory : “You’re welcome.”
Why do I say that, you may ask? Well, because the victory over Toulouse happened thanks to me, of course!!!
And why do I say THAT, you may ask? Because clearly Jamie Heaslip read my preview column on SportsNews Ireland last Thursday, where I said this…
“I’m personally looking to talismanic Number 8 Jamie Heaslip to step forward and grab the headlines. He showed us already this year he can square up to the likes of Dusautoir at the Aviva Stadium back in February, so I’m expecting big things from him this weekend.”
Who scored our first try and went on to be voted Man Of The Match???
Again I say, “you’re welcome”.
OK, hopefully you know I’m joking and you’re still reading this post, so now to the real stuff…
The final winning margin was 9 pts, and the final try tally was 2 each, so I suppose when I saw some headlines around the mainstream media claiming Leinster “edged” this contest, they were referring to stats like those.
But let’s examine exactly how these two great clubs scored their tries on the day, shall we?
The visitors struck first thanks to a series of events that you couldn’t re-create in a million years. Many a time has a defence been caught napping by a penalty kick that has struck the crossbar, but you can’t say it’s my blue goggles talking when I say there is nothing any Leinster player could have done about Skrela’s rebound falling perfectly in the bread basket of the on-rushing Florian Fritz after a wicked bounce.
After a couple of early attacking opportunities were wasted with dodgy lineouts, Leinster had their first real chance to cross the line approaching the half hour, when The Jamie Heaslip Show took centre stage. You really should watch the sequence from the lineout in the Toulouse 22 around the 27-minute mark, it’s something else. Not only does he receive the knockdown from his skipper AND complete the score with the touchdown, he’s involved half a dozen times in between what with marshalling the phases, clearing out tacklers and at least another 3 carries.
We’ll discuss the reason Toulouse had an extra man for the 2nd try later…but the fact remains, they had him. With a scrum virtually on our try-line, we had to concede the man advantage in the backs. I’ve watched it a few times and I’m still not sure whether flanker Jean Bouilhou meant to boot the ball straight out of the scrum or was he just trying to keep it in…either way, with the ball shooting out at pace and Doussain reacting so quickly, his offload to Picamole was only to have one result.
But once again, Leinster were fully locked in a mode of “anything you can do, we can do better”, and having just inched ahead by two points, we won the restart on our own 22 and after a clever chip from Luke, a couple of super scrambles from Strauss & Isa, impressive carries from Mike Ross and (of course) Jamie, before you knew it we were camped on their line again and who else would you expect to apply the finishing touch in that situation but Mr Triskaidekaphobia himself.
For the rest of the contest, when 15 played 15 and there were no freaky bounces, Leinster were well in control of this match, and though the visitors made brave attempts towards the end to claw their way back, their only hope of crossing the line was out wide, and on 73 minutes when sub winger Gregory Lambooley had the ball flung at him, first a crunching tackle by Isa and then an incredible jackle & strip from, yes, you guessed it, Jamie, thwarted their last chance.
Even a couple of late errors from Nacewa & Stan couldn’t help the visitors. Our Gandalf defense as I call it (“you shall not pass!”) was just too good. (see Ken Bohane’s pic for a classic shot of our defence in action…click it for his excellent-as-always set from the match).
For me the game’s “pivotal moment” was Toulouse lock Albacete’s unforgivable charge through the maul to concede a penalty just before halftime. Never mind whether or not it was legal…to do it at the breakdown was ALWAYS a risk, and his side were fortunate to be level with Leinster at that point PLUS they had an extra body on the park, so he really had no business doing anything. Though they were to regain the lead shortly after the restart, Leinster had to have been buoyed by going in 16-13 up at the half.
Now…to the ref. I normally hate bashing the man in the middle, and after all the pre-match moaning by Leinster fans about Dave Pearson I was hoping to give him benefit of the doubt, but the fact remains that Toulouse were pinged several times in their own 22 without so much as a warning, while even if O’Driscoll WAS guilty of something horrific when he was binned, surely Pearson should have been consistent. There would be quite the inquest going on right now had the result been different.
In stark contrast to Richard Cockerill’s whinging after the quarterfinal, legendary Toulouse coach Guy Novès, who knows a thing or four about winning this great competition, was magnanimous in defeat (points made in this paragraph courtesy of @ciaran69 on twitter):
"Despite our two tries and our workrate, we were beaten by a stronger side who deserved to win.”
Of course we can’t discount the effort made by Jonny Sexton, who not only slotted all eight kicks on the day, but also played a nigh-on flawless 10 throughout. One can’t help wondering what might have been had he been able to play a year ago in the Stade Municipal. Also there was a super effort from the front row, with the marauding Cian “Proper Church” Healy (pic) & Mike Ross holding sway and then the likes of Heinke van der Merwe providing seamless transition from the bench.
This was the latest in a series of remarkable occasions at the Aviva Stadium, and the atmosphere was electric throughout. Only worry now for Leinster will be if Sean O’Brien is nabbed by the citing commissioner for this swipe at Yannick Nyanga. Otherwise, Joe Schmidt can bring his charges to Cardiff on May 21st knowing a similar display could well provide the perfect result for the fans back home in the 12 eastern counties of Ireland.
elsewhere in Europe…
Results at the weekend mean that all four teams travelling to Cardiff for European Finals weekend have some sort of Irish connection, but not quite in the manner we may have expected. What a performance & result by Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins, eh? No doubt about it, they out-Munstered Munster. I can’t help but point to the decrease in Ronan O’Gara’s form when he plays as captain, but by no means should that take away from the visitor’s achievements. They now face Michael Cheika’s Stade Francais in the Amlin final, and that’s a matchup which should be a cracker as both need to lift the trophy to guarantee a spot in next season’s Heineken Cup. As for Northampton and their Belfast-born No8 Roger Wilson, I congratulate them for reaching the final, but despite the hype from the Sky commentators I really felt it was a case of their B game overcoming a dreadful Perpignan’s C game. Let’s just say that if the two Heineken Cup finalists play as they did in the semis, there can only be one winner. But I’d be very surprised if the Saints were unable to up their performance on the day, and it’s bound to be a close one.