Edinburgh fans will rightly point to their players' gritty display on Saturday as a key component of their famous victory over Toulouse, but going by the 8 quarterfinal teams' performances over the weekend, I reckon Lee Jones' 77th minute try against London Irish back in January was just as important.
That score secured the bonus point for the Scottish capital, and without it they would have been the ones playing Leinster at the Aviva with Cardiff hosting Clermont and Toulouse travelling to Saracens. I'm not so sure the Welshmen would still have advanced even then, but there's a strong possibility Michael Bradley wouldn't be busy preparing for a semifinal right now.
But of course that's all about ifs and maybes – the fact remains that pretty much as expected, Six Nations form was turned on its head (Bradley Davies reference fully intended) with Cardiff spending their Saturday evening in Dublin playing Washington Generals to Leinster's Harlem Globetrotters.
Still, the opening six minutes could have hardly gone worse for the home side. Leinster lost the first scrum, their first lineout, conceded the first penalty and as a result of that, the game's first points. Sexton failing to make ten metres from the restart didn't help matters much either.
The tone was dramatically shifted the other way when Rob Kearney rose majestically to catch his gagillionth high ball of 2012 – soon after, his outhalf had the chance to level, he made no mistake and there really was no looking back.
Normally with these writeups I try to avoid long-winded descriptions of tries but Leinster's four were so clinical and so match-defining I see no other alternative.
The opener came from a quick tap penalty taken by Sexton at halfway. This took play into the Cardiff half, and after a few phases Brian O'Driscoll got his first possession, not taking the ball very far but losing his boot in the ensuing ruck.
While the curiously red-coloured footwear lay on the Aviva Stadium turf, play continued, with Cian Healy right in the thick of it with two strong carries and even a cameo at scrum-half. Eventually enough space was created for Sexton to throw a dummy before passing to Kearney who was spoiled for choice with options, eventually going for Nacewa was easily crossed the line.
Having shown more than once against Glasgow that Leinster could score with just 14 men, they now proved they can do it with just 29 boots on!
A few minutes later Sexton missed an absolute howler of a penalty but got a second bite at it (thanks to Pearson's eagle-eye spotted a Bradley Davies push in the lineout – payback perhaps?) around the 22 minute mark to make it 13-3. Five minutes later, this great competition got about as perfect a display of 15-man rugby as it's ever going to get.
Leinster may have conceded a free kick at its first scrum but pretty much dominated it ever since. From a Blues put-in at halfway they actually won a free-kick themselves thanks mostly to a powerful drive from its second row which had a combined age of 71 years. They used this superiority to set another scrum only this time their backs would have the front-foot ball...what would they do with it?
After strong contributions from Sexton, Luke Fitzgerald, Gordon D'Arcy (who for all his poor form of late had a fine afternoon which befitted his 200th provincial appearance), O'Driscoll and Eoin Reddan, Leinster were deep in the Cardiff 22 then a quick pass from Strauss to Rob Kearney saw the fullback easily over the line. Only Nacewa failed to be directly involved in the move but sure that's fine, he was already on the scoresheet himself.
Some might have suggested that was one of the tries of the tournament but even better was yet to come.
Leinster got a penalty on their own 22 and a perfect Sexton spiral gave them a lineout on the Cardiff one. This is the very situation where Leinster are most dangerous, and ironically also where Ireland failed multiple times during the Six Nations.
Well, there was no failure to be seen here. The play was called and boy, was it executed to perfection.
Strauss threw a perfect dart to Cullen who comfortably guided it down to Reddan. Jamie Heaslip was next in line for it rather than Sexton and this gave the outhalf the space to offload a text-book no-look pass to the arriving Fitzgerald. The Blues were effectively sunk at this point but it took a final pass to the almighty BOD to finish it off.
34 minutes gone, 27-3 to Leinster. Contest effectively over. And I'm not going to apologize for my excessive use of praise in my descriptions because the fact remains it was a display worthy of the words whatever way you look at it.
The second half began with Cian Healy virtually sealing his man of the match award with a crunching tackle on Michael Paterson, then before long Leinster were back in the opposition 22 again, thankfully this time right in front of where I was sitting.
Again Reddan was alive to doing something a bit different and his clever fake before going the other way created the space for O'Driscoll to crash towards the line before a last-second offload to Kearney for his second. The way the number 13 fell to the ground proved he could have taken it himself to equal Vincent Clerc's all-time Heineken Cup try-scoring record but he'd probably argue the pass was the better call as it made the conversion easier!
Now...if you don't happen to be a Leinster fan and you're still reading this writeup, I have some good news and bad news. Good, I won't be doing any more gushing about Leinster's offence from this match. Bad, I'll be doing a spot of gushing about their defence.
Fair play to the Cardiff Blues – they were well beaten when that final try went over but they really did do everything they could to get scores on the board for the final 33 minutes. The only problem was that their opponents, knowing a tough away trip awaited them in the semifinal whatever happened the following day, needed a spell of competitive defensive training and that is effectively what they got.
If it wasn't for Ulster's heroic 187 tackles in Thomond Park I could probably really impress you with the stat that Joe Schmidt's men made 134 on Saturday. Plus there's the fact that overall Cardiff enjoyed 59% possession and 62% territory, which means those figures are probably far greater for the second half. Yet they were restricted to just the three points in 80 minutes.
There really isn't that much more to be said. Whatever happened on the day Welsh fans would always remember the 2011/12 season for the Grand Slam anyway, so it could be argued that the visitors had nothing to lose, and of course not having key names like Warburton and Roberts plus the ice-capades of Mr Henson wouldn't have helped matters either.
But I'm pretty sure the 31-point winning margin shows that Leinster were primed for this match whatever the opposition, and the victory stretches their unbeaten record in this competition to 13 matches.
In actual fact our last Heineken Cup defeat was to Clermont Auvergne on French soil. Guess who we play next and where? Long way to go yet before the destination of this year's trophy is decided, that's for sure. JLP
ALSO THIS WEEKEND
Friday, April 6
BRITISH & IRISH CUP SEMIFINAL
LEINSTER A 29-36 MUNSTER A (aet)
Such are the standards at the RDS these days that an outhalf should be able to easily see home a 20-9 2nd half lead but sadly for Leinster Noel Reid could not manage this on a poor display all round for the lad. Luke McGrath and Dom Ryan had tries wiped out by O'Mahony & O'Dea and it went to extra time where prop Kilcoyne deservedly got the winning score. Still dont regret going tho!
Saturday, April 7
Edinburgh 19-14 Toulouse
Sunday, April 8
Munster 16-22 Ulster
Saracens 3-22 Clermont