May 222011
 

Leinster were dead and buried at half time, going into the dressing room 22-6 down.  Northampton were killing them in the scrum, at the breakdown and in open play.

I’ll be honest with you.  I thought it was over.  I couldn’t see them coming back, not so much because the gap was too big, but because Saints were so dominant in every aspect of play.  And yet, right from the restart, it looked like the two teams had swapped shirts, as Leinster smashed into their opponents, kept possession, forced them to defend desperately, and Jonny Sexton racked up score after score.

We’ve never seen such a comeback in a European Cup final.  Within a quarter of an hour, Leinster had the lead.  It was an extraordinary display of determination and refusal to to quit, combined with some outstanding individual performances.  Brian O Driscoll, as usual, was at the top of his game, proving once again that he is one of the finest players ever to step onto a rugby pitch, and Sexton put in the display of his life.

Whatever was said in the dressing room worked.  Leinster’s scrummaging improved beyond recognition and the substitution of Jennings for McLaughlin probably improved things at the breakdown for Leinster.  O’Driscoll got the measure of Foden and I thought Nacewa was immense under the high ball.

It’s true that Saints were tired after a hard semi-final against Leicester the previous week, and Ashton must also have been feeling the effects of the thumping he got from Tuilagi in that match.  It’s also true that Hartley got a nasty bang on the head in the first half and stayed on to finish the game, but all in all, I think Northampton were in the end beaten by a team with more self-belief on the day.  With twenty minutes to go, it seemed to me that their players were acting like defeated men.  The body language was not good.

On a broader point, this match showed in stark detail how punishing the modern game has become. I know the players are all much bigger and stronger now than they used to be say 15 years ago, but that also means bigger impacts, and while you can beef up in the gym, bone is still just bone, and ligament is still just ligament.  I’m beginning to wonder what the future holds for professional rugby players at this level.  In the last few weeks we saw the retirement of two young players from the Munster squad : Barry Murphy, who had a nasty ankle break against Ulster,  and Ian Dowling, who suffered a bad hip injury against Ospreys back in September.  Of the players who soldier on, what will life be like in ten years time?  What lifelong damage have they suffered, especially players as courageous as Brian O Driscoll?

But that’s a discussion for another day.

Here’s wishing Leinster well.  They thoroughly deserved their second Heineken Cup, matching Munster’s haul, and we’ll welcome them to Thomond Park next weekend for the final of the Magners League.
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  11 Responses to “Heineken Cup Final — Leinster 33 Northampton 22”

Comments (11)
  1.  

    I remember after Northampton scored just before the break for half time and the Leinster team gathered around to give themselves a talk, that Brian O’Driscoll appeared to say “we have to want it more”. And it was clear in the 2nd half that they did want it and were prepared to work to get it. It really was great to watch.

  2.  

    Awesome game and greatest comeback I’ve ever seen. I had a really enjoyable afternoon with a few Budvars, well done Leinster! Sore head now though, what do they put into that brew?

  3.  

    Ethyl alcohol. C2H5OH. It’ll get you every time.

  4.  

    As a Leinster supporter, cheers for the good wishes Bock. But, like you, I thought that we were dead and buried at half time, because we were bullied around the park, and second best in practically every area of the pitch. Schmidt is some coach, because his half time talk (plus Sextons) did the business. Performances like that can only enhance players belief and can only help us in NZ. But here’s hoping that Kidney sees sense and brings Horgan along, his catches at the restarts were amazing!

    Looking forward to a great game next week, just hoping that there’s no injuries!

    Sad to hear about Murphy and Dowling, they were good players for you.

  5.  

    A great game, a fantastic come back and some outstanding individual performances especially from Sexton. I watched the game in his uncles pub and he and the cousins were justifiably proud. Congratulations to Leinster, great to see the trophy back in Ireland, and good luck to Connacht who will compete in the H Cup for the first time next season. Great for Irish rugby.

  6.  

    Of course they were proud. The young fella did great.

    And on the broader issue, it means, as you say, that Connacht are in, and Irish rugby gets a big cash injection. Win all-round.

  7.  

    I thought Leinster had the stamp of champions on them for the last few months, but at half time I didnt think they were the same team I’d been watching, I thought they’d blown it. Which made their comeback all the more remarkable. Great game, top marks to them. Rob Kearney must be wondering how he is going to get a game when he returns from injury, Nacewa is playing amazing stuff.

  8.  

    I know of a project that is putting all sorts of sensors in athletes’ clothing to monitor their various stats in the game and one of them measures the amount of impact they get. In a rugby game some of the backs, centres in particular, go through the equivalent of multiple 40mph head on car crashes, i.e., the impacts measured across the game give a comparable quantitative analysis. So it is an incredibly tough game on the body – I guess we might start seeing the effects in the years to come, but for now I wish them well, and I love the fact that they tear strips of each other in the Munster/Leinster games and pull together as they do when they all don the green!!

  9.  

    You know even at half time I knew they were going to win. I just had the feeling in my water. While all around me, people thought I was mad, or that the porter was doing its job. But no, fuck it, I knew it, there was just something about the manner of the game that dident feel right. I think at half time someone must have said ‘Right Lads have ye all had a good luck at the Boys from Northampton. Arent they playing very well? Now is there any possibility that ye could collectively wake the fuck up and realise that this is the European Cup final we are playing in!

  10.  

    I was standing next to a fella who ran out to the bookies at half time to put a few shillings on Leinster. Sadly for him, they were closed.

  11.  

    On a side note to the issues raised in the last paragraph on long-term injuries to rugby players in today’s beefed-up game, I came across this sad story today:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/jul/19/nfl-star-brain-injuries-destroyed?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT6921

    I love the game, but I do wonder about the long-term costs to those playing at the top level. I’m wondering about BOD in particular, who seems to get his bell rung almost every major game he’s in.

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