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Heineken Cup Final: Leicester Tigers (13) 16 - 19 (9) Leinster Rugby

Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland
Saturday, 23 May 2009, 17:00

The big day had arrived. Leinster's European season was designed to be bookended by Murrayfield Stadium. That day back in October Leinster had gotten a monkey off the back. This time in Murrayfield they were aiming to change the way the entire rugby world saw them, to become champions of Europe.

The bookies may have had nothing between them but in reality Leicester came into the game in excellent form having had two tough competitive Premiership matches between the semi final and final. Leinster had the luxury of sending a scratch team to Newport for their final league game. So would it be Leicester's "big mo'" or Leinster's quiet build up that would stand to the teams? With the bookies, pundits, magicians and even fans putting these teams neck and neck it seemed that this match would be decided by the slimmest of margins as these matches are so often are.

As the teams left the field following the warm up it was apparent that Leinster had won the first battle - in the stand. The sheer number of people clutching a blue flag, be they Leinster or "neutral", would have given the players heart before kick off and possibly settled some nerves. As per usual Murrayfield began the match with great razzmatazz but when the fanfare had died down, the match kicked off and the serious business had begun.

Leicester had the first opportunity to open the scoring after barely two minutes on the clock when Leinster were penalised. Julien Dupuy stood up to the 45 metre penalty but, as he often does in truth, he was inaccurate with his first kick.  Leinster were off the hook and after a sluggish start looked to impose themselves on the match.

As he has done so often this season Rocky Elsom provided much of Leinster's go-forward ball. It was from good ground gained by him that Leinster opened their account. The ball went back to Brian O'Driscoll for a well struck drop goal. O'Driscoll is making a habit of these drop goals in important matches!

The lead didn't last long however, Dupuy made up for his earlier miss with a well struck penalty after 8 minutes to level the scores. The match was going along with the pre-match predictions of nip and tuck with Leinster probably just shading the territory. Sexton was belying any nerves by managing the game well and he and Nacewa were playing an intelligent kicking game, exploiting the space left at times by Tuilagi and Murphy.

Just after the quarter hour Jonathan Sexton showed all his confidence with a sensational drop goal. A poor clearance went to Jennings on half way and he passed inside to Sexton who kicked as his foot landed on the half way line. He struck the ball as sweetly as he ever will to give Leinster a slender lead. The Leinster ten was impressing in other aspects of his game too with his sharp passing and breaks creating chances, one in particular for D'Arcy that very nearly resulted in a try.

Leicester were beginning to struggle on their set pieces too. While Leinster had been pilloried in sections of the media for their lineout, it was Leicester who coughed up possession on their own throw- in and this invited pressure on their defence and the pressure told when Leinster were awarded a penalty 25 yards out for a ruck infringement. Sexton stood up and stuck it over to give Leinster a 6 point lead.

Leicester are too good a team to be dominated for eighty minutes and they began to eke back possession. Dan Hipkiss was making inroads into Leinster territory and gaining ground for the English side.  Deep in Leinster territory Leicester strung a sequence of phases together and the pressure told when Stan Wright infringed tackling Vesty off the ball. The referee produced a yellow card and Leicester had a straightforward kick for Dupuy to bring the score to 9-6.

The momentum was with Leicester and with the man advantage they pressed on and got the break through just a minute before half time. Vesty made use of an inch of free space to create the opening for Ben Woods to bundle over despite the close attentions of three Leinster defenders. Dupuy struck the conversion and Leicester had the lead at half time.

Trailing by four points and down to fourteen men, Leinster knew they needed to make a good start to the second half. Instead it was Leicester that capitalised still further with the opening salvo of the second half. An error by Luke Fitzgerald who kicked out on the full saw Leicester gain huge ground and from the lineout the referee awarded a penalty right in front of the posts. Dupuy dispatched the kick and Leicester's advantage was out to seven. The sin binning of Stan Wright seemed crucial as Leicester had struck 13 points in the ten minutes. Now Leinster were up against it!

Leinster had the answers. Brian O'Driscoll made great ground with a dummy and then amazing leg strength to get within five metres of the line and Whitaker fed the waiting Heaslip who with assistance from Jennings bundled over the line in a score that was oddly similar to Wood's first half try. Sexton converted and the sides were level with half an hour to play.

On 52 minutes Leinster were awarded a penalty and with it the chance to take a lead they had relinquished in the 38th minute. It was a long range effort however and Sexton proved less reliable with the place than the drop kick and the effort fell short.

The match became quite attritional with a number of changes in the front rows. There were also a number of injuries to contend with as Leicester lost Geordan Murphy and Leinster had a blood injury for Healy and a bad looking arm injury for O'Driscoll that saw him push out onto the wing away from the crashing centres.

It was from this wing position that O'Driscoll contributed to the next important act in this match. He jinked his way through would be tacklers and when he went to ground the Leicester defence lay on top and were penalised. Sexton had the kick slightly to the left of the posts. The ball was seemingly moving agonisingly wide of the right hand post before curling in right at the death to the delight of the travelling Leinster supporters. The relief was palpable as the touch judges threw up their flags and drew enormous cheers from the bulk of the crowd.  The slimmest of margins!

Leinster had a lead and with ten minutes to go made about hanging onto it. Leicester seemed determined to aid their cause and as the noise from the assembled blues was cranked up a notch the pressure seemed to get to Leicester. From the restart Vesty put the ball straight into touch and from a deep kick into their half Scott Hamilton ran a ball into touch when under no pressure. Leicester needed continuity and were not able to find it.

Perhaps the pressure was getting to Leinster too. Shane Horgan dropped a catch on half way when he had an eternity to think about it. Leinster were looking to eat up time on the clock but when they went over the top Owens awarded a penalty and with it Leicester's final chance. They took the lineout option and secured the ball. Leinster knew that an infringement here with just seconds on the clock would certainly bring a levelling score and extra time. Leicester continued to go through the phases but Leinster's discipline was there and despite going through seven phases Leicester couldn't break though and in truth never seemed to be considering a drop at goal.

The assembled spectators held their breath and watched as Cian Healy pushed the attacking Leicester players five yards back. Suddenly Owens blew sharply on his whistle and there was a moment of silence before he raised his right arm to signal a penalty to Leinster. Leo Cullen punched the air as did many of the Leinster men and women in the stand but before the celebrations could fully begin Jonny Sexton had to do the necessary and boot the ball into touch. Only finally then were Leinster able to celebrate. And how!

The scenes of jubilation in the stands were matched on the pitch. For some of the players it amounted to the culmination of a long journey, in some cases a fourteen year journey. For others it was a massive achievement so early in their careers. There were words of acknowledgement for players who hadn't quite achieved it with these players and there was a poignant moment as the reluctant Chris Whitaker lifted the trophy in tandem with Leo Cullen. It was hard to argue with the choice of music as the team paraded their prize around the pitch. Beautiful day? Indeed!

Match Statistics

Leicester Tigers

Leinster Rugby
Tries Woods

Conversions Dupuy

Penalties Dupuy (3)

Sexton (2)
Drop Goals

Sin Bin

Wright (32 - 42)

Teams Geordan Murphy (C)
15 Isa Nacewa
Scott Hamilton
14 Shane Horgan
Ayoola Erinle
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Dan Hipkiss
12 Gordan D'Arcy
Alesana Tuilagi
11 Luke Fitzgerald
Sam Vesty
10 Jonathan Sexton
Julien Dupuy
9 Chris Whitaker

Marcus Ayersa
1 Cian Healy
George Chuter
2 Bernard Jackman
Martin Castrogiovanni
3 Stan Wright
Tom Croft
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Ben Kay
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Craig Newby
6 Rocky Elsom
Ben Woods
7 Shane Jennings
Jordan Crane
8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Benjamin Kayser (for Chuter, 55)
16 John Fogarty (for Jackman, 55)
Julian White (for Castrogiovanni, 52)
17 Ronan McCormack
Louis Deacon (for Crane, 32)
18 Devin Toner
Lewis Moody (for Woods, 60)
19 Sean O'Brien
Harry Ellis (for Dupuy, 75)
20 Simon Keogh
Matt Smith (for Murphy, 47)
21 Rob Kearney (for Fitzgerald, 71)
Johne Murphy
22 Girvan Dempsey
Not considered
due to injury
Aaron Mauger
Toby Flood
  C.J. Van der Linde (Toe - Out for Season)
Felipe Contepomi (Knee - Out for Season)

by Sarah Lennon, © 2009-05-27