Heineken Cup final: Leinster 42 - 14 Ulster: Leinster rise to greatness
Leinster secured their third Heineken Cup in the last four years and in doing so cemented their place at the pinnacle of the European game as the best side ever seen in this tournament.
There may be some in the south of France who will argue the toss because Toulouse have won four titles in total but the last time anyone enjoyed Leinster’s current hegemony in Europe the Hapsburgs were in their pomp.
Joe Schmidt’s men grew in stature and authority as this game progressed, scoring five tries and three penalties to Ulster’s three penalties and one touchdown. It was the biggest winning margin of any final.
There were times when it was almost embarrassingly one-sided although Ulster did well not to completely collapse because it could have happened when their opponents took a 24-9 lead early in the second half. Leinster extended their unbeaten record in this competition to an astonishing 14 matches; far beyond anything Toulouse have ever achieved. Ulster came out of the traps like men possessed, bossing the early exchanges and taking an early lead thanks to a Ruan Pienaar penalty but it appeared as if they had done little more than poke a sleeping bear with a big stick.
For some reason Ulster tried to beat Leinster at their own game, throwing the ball about from side to side rather than playing the percentages and relying, as they have done all season, on that bruising pack of forwards.
It’s an oversimplification but there is something in the notion that Leinster’s backs beat Ulster’s big men. If The Dublin team enjoyed an obvious advantage it lay in their midfield where Brian O’Driscoll shrugged off recent keyhole surgery on his knee to give the Ulstermen a lesson, especially his opposite number Darren Cave who won’t watch a replay of this match too often. It was O’Dricsoll’s brilliant, backhanded offload to Sean O’Brien that facilitated Cian Healy’s first-half try and his influence on this match was all-pervasive. O’Driscoll has said he wants to play for the Lions next year and on this performance he will.
He had able support from Gordon D’Arcy and, especially, Johnny Sexton who was so far ahead of Ulster’s young stand-off Paddy Jackson that it looked a little unfair. While Sexton’s kicking from hand was immaculate and long, Jackson hit two kicks from hand straight into touch and he fluffed an ill-conceived drop goal at the tail end of the first half, one of the few periods when Ulster enjoyed the upper hand.
Leinster scored two first-half tries through O’Brien, who barrelled his way past Pedrie Wannenburg and the giant prop Tom Court from short range after fullback Rob Kearney was stopped short. It went “upstairs” to the Scottish TMO but there was never any doubt that Jim Yuille would give O’Brien’s score the thumbs up. He was followed over the line by Cian Healy after Ulster somehow lost a turnover at a set scrum. It could have been worse because Craig Gilroy had to look lively to prevent Eoin Reddan from scoring from a breakout and Stephen Ferris needed to bundle Isa Nacewa into touch just minutes later.
All Ulster could offer in response was two Pienaar penalties, the first after seven minutes, the second a monster from well inside his own half with the last kick of the first 40. That late intervention made it 14-6 at the break and it handed Ulster a lifeline that lasted just five minutes which is how long it took for Leinster to score their third try.
Jackson’s second miskick gave Leinster a good attacking position and when Leinster’s rolling maul was brought down illegally just five metres from the Ulster line referee Nigel Owens didn’t hesitate to award the penalty try under the posts. The guilty man was either Tom Court or Andrew Trimble but it all came from Jackson’s initial mistake and, to no one’s surprise, it was the youngster’s last contribution to proceedings as he was immediately replaced by Ian Humphreys who did enough to suggest that he should have started the match although he didn’t last long, limping off with ten minutes still to play. Piennar kicked his third penalty but Sexton got those three back when the Ulster forwards were penalised at one of the restart. If Ulster were to have any chance of pulling this one out of the fire they needed something from a 57 minute penalty under the Leinster’s posts. Instead of taking the three on offer, Ulster opted for an attacking scrum but No.8 Wannenburg threw his inside pass horribly forward and that chance went west but Paddy Wallace eventually ushered Dan Tuohy into the right hand corner for Ulster’s first try just as the match moved into the final quarter.
Pienaar’s missed conversion meant that Ulster still trailed by ten points but at least the raucous fans in white were on their feet until Sexton’s second penalty on 68 minutes ensured that the Ulster’s fightback was short-lived.
In a suitably miserable end to the match Ulster’s veteran fullback Stefan Terblanche spent the final minutes of the match in the sin bin after a spear tackle on Leinster hooker Sean Cronin that was born of frustration but it was that sort of afternoon for Ulster.
Sexton kicked his third penalty and the front row replacements Heinke Van Der Merwe and Sean Cronin kicked Ulster in the teeth with Leinster’s fourth and fifth tries in the dying minutes of the match.
Scorers: Leinster: Tries: O’Brien, Healy, Pen Try, Van Der Merwe, Cronin Cons: Sexton (3), McFadden Pens: Sexton (3). Ulster: Tries: Tuohy Conv: Pens: Pienaar (3).
Leinster: R Kearney, McFadden, O’Driscoll (D Kearney 67 min), D’Arcy, Nacewa; Sexton (Madigan 74 min), Reddan (Cooney 74 min), Healy (Van Der Merwe 60 min), Strauss (Cronin 67 min), Ross (White 69 min), Cullen (Capt) (Toner 57 min), Thorn, McLaughlin (Jennings 60 min), O’Brien, Heaslip.
Ulster: Terblanche, Trimble, Cave, Wallace, Gilroy; Jackson (Humphreys 45 min)(Marshall 69 min), Pienaar; Court (McAllister 75 min), Best, Afoa (Fitzpatrick 75 min), Muller, Tuohy, Ferris, Henry (Faloon 67 min), Wannenburg..
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales). Attendance: 81,774.
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