Leinster clinch Heineken Cup glory
May 23, 2009
Leinster lift the Heineken Cup following their narrow victory over Leicester at Twickenham
© Getty Images
Leinster were crowned European champions for the first time following a hard-fought 19-16 victory over Leicester in their Heineken Cup Final showdown at Murrayfield.
The Irish province rallied from a first-half deficit with an assured display to end the Tigers' hopes of a record-equalling third Heineken Cup triumph and a notable domestic and European double.
A try from No.8 Jamie Heaslip, an assured performance from 23-year-old fly-half Jonny Sexton and a rampaging display from man of the match Rocky Elsom were the bedrock of a battling victory that sees Leinster write their names alongside Irish rivals Ulster and Munster on the Heineken Cup roll of honour.
A try from blindside flanker Ben Woods and eight points from the boot of scrum-half Julien Dupuy saw the Tigers take a narrow half-time lead against the run of play. Drop goals from Brian O'Driscoll and Sexton and a further penalty from the No.10 had given Leinster a deserved advantage but a yellow card for prop Stan Wright saw the momentum swing back in Leicester's favour.
A packed house and blue skies welcomed the sides to Europe's biggest stage and some lazy running from Leinster flanker Shane Jennings handed Dupuy the opportunity to open the scores with just two minutes on the clock - but he pulled his long-range effort wide of the posts.
A charging run from Elsom soon took Leinster deep inside Leicester's half and with the advantage coming O'Driscoll slotted a neat drop goal to give his side the lead. Back came the Tigers with centre Dan Hipkiss powering into the 22 before he was brought down by Heaslip. But the Lions-bound No.8 was penalised at the breakdown and Dupuy made no mistake with the resulting penalty to level the scores.
Leinster continued to press but got little reward against miserly Leicester defence but the Tigers were on the back foot for much of the opening period with a mature Sexton pulling the strings. A kick from Dupuy was charged down as he tried to clear his lines from a scrum on the quarter hour but the ball escaped lock Malcolm O'Kelly and fullback Geordan Murphy was there to snuff out the danger.
But they could do nothing about Sexton's next score. The 23-year-old fly-half, making only his third Heineken Cup start, collected the ball on half way before sending it back between the posts for a superb drop goal.
Another excellent kick from Sexton had Leicester pinned back in their 22 midway through the half and when George Chuter missed his man at the lineout, Leinster surged forward in search of the try but D'Arcy was denied by a great double tackle from Woods and Craig Newby.
Aggressive defence from Leicester stemmed much of the Leinster flow but they were forced into a penalty that allowed Sexton to extend the lead.
But Leicester looked dangerous at times with Hipkiss doing much of the damage. The strong-running centre showed great courage and skill, backing himself in his own 22, and his kick ahead was scrambled into touch by Sexton. The Tigers then probed left and right in their first real series of attacking phases but failed to find an opening.
However, a tackle off the ball by Wright on fly-half Sam Vesty saw the Cook Islands international sent to the sin-bin before Dupuy notched his second penalty.
Sensing the need to maximise their numerical advantage the Tigers surged forward.
Hipkiss again showed his strength to drive into the 22 before feeding Vesty who offloaded brilliantly to Woods and D'Arcy and fullback Isa Nacewa could not stop the blindside from crashing over. Dupy added the extras to give his side a four-point lead at the break.
The Tigers attempted to pick up where they left off following the re-start and were aided by some indiscipline from Leinster prop Cian Healey. His blatant infringement at a ruck allowed Dupuy to edge his side further ahead before Wright returned to the fray.
Another strong Elsom run seemed to lift his team while the Tigers suffered a cruel blow when skipper Murphy was forced out of the game with an injury.
Leinster pressed again with O'Driscoll cutting inside before the ball was recycled to Heaslip who forced his way over with a little help from team mate Shane Jennings. And Sexton's conversion levelled things up with half an hour to go.
The try appeared to galvanise Leinster's desire and pressure at the breakdown saw them rewarded with another penalty but Sexton's kick did not have the legs.
But they reclaimed the lead as the game entered the last ten minutes when some more good work at the breakdown saw the Tigers penalised. Sexton's kick squeezed past the right-hand upright to the delight of thousands of Irish fans.
The pressure appeared to take its toll on the Tigers with first Vesty putting the re-start out on the full and then Scott Hamilton stumbling whilst attempting to tidy up a kick ahead from replacement Rob Kearney.
With Leinster looking for the killer blow Alesana Tuilagi put in a timely tackle on a charging Shane Horgan to force the winger into touch. Leicester, under pressure to attack from deep, struggled to retain their composure while Leinster did their best to run down the clock.
But errors from the Tigers continued to blight their efforts to turn things around. A poor lineout saw them pinned inside their own 22 from where they were unable to conjure a break but one final penalty gave them the opportunity to launch one last attack.
A free-kick at the resulting lineout followed and the Tigers' forwards did their best to earn some hard yards but the penalty they were looking for went Leinster's way to hand them European glory.
Leicester: G Murphy; Hamilton, Erinle, Hipkiss, Tuilagi; Vesty, Dupuy; Ayerza, Chuter, Castrogiovanni, Croft, Kay, Newby, Woods, Crane.
Replacements: Smith for G Murphy (47), Ellis for Dupuy (75), White for Castrogiovanni (52), Moody for Woods (60), L Deacon for Crane (32). Not Used: Kayser, J Murphy.
Leinster: Nacewa; Horgan, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Fitzgerald; Sexton, Whitaker; Healy, Jackman, Wright, Cullen, O'Kelly, Elsom, Jennings, Heaslip.
Replacements: R Kearney for Fitzgerald (71), Fogarty for Jackman (55). Not Used: McCormack, Toner, O'Brien, S Keogh, Dempsey.
Sin Bin: Wright (33).
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Whitehouse, Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Firdose Moonda talks to Rob Louw about the difficulties of being a South African touring New Zealand at the height of Apartheid
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games