Magnificent comeback seals Heineken Cup triumph
Glory for Leinster as Sexton puts in a performance for the ages
Published 22/05/2011 | 05:00
Astonishing. Simply astonishing.
A remarkable week in Irish history was crowned with the skill, vision and enterprise of one remarkable young Irishman as Jonny Sexton singlehandedly won the highest prize in European rugby in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
The 25-year-old man of the match scored 28 points, including two wonderful tries, to complete one of the most remarkable comebacks in Irish sporting history.
Leinster were dead and buried for 40 minutes and faced ignoble defeat. Quite simply, they didn't play at all in the first half. The men in blue had found out in the first 30 seconds that the new entente cordiale between Ireland and England did not extend to the scrummage.
Northampton tore into Leinster in those first darkly depressing moments. The giant 22-stone Soane Tonga'uiha, abrasive and uncompromising from the off, was a fearsome force and Leinster were nervous.
This was supposed to be a showcase of aristocratic rugby -- Leinster style. Instead, the men in blue looked frail and unsure.
The scores came thick and fast for Northampton. Big Phil Dowson finished a blitzkrieg assault on the Leinster line, aided by the dark arts. One of his forward colleagues grabbed the leg of Shane Horgan, thus opening up space for the try scorer.
Stephen Myler converted with aplomb and although Sexton converted a penalty soon after, any hopes of a first-half revival were soon dashed.
Another Myler penalty restored the 10-point advantage and even Brian Mujati's yellow card failed to quell the Northampton storm.
Second best in all facets of forward play, Leinster looked dead and buried as Ben Foden brushed aside a last-ditch tackle by Brian O'Driscoll to score a wonderful try -- and then, with 38 minutes on the clock, Dylan Hartley touched down. The English side had a 22-6 half-time lead.
So, Leinster beaten then?
Well, that's how it seemed Then along came Jonny. The Leinster forwards found their brio and suddenly, after four minutes, Sexton stretched and wriggled to plant his left hand and the ball over the try line.
He converted, of course.
And then another try by Sexton, which showcased both his bravery and his invention, and the conversion was again successfully completed. A penalty then, to bring his total to 26 consecutive points, before Nathan Hynes drove across the line for another try.
Sexton had grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck. There were 29 other men on the pitch, but with 20 points in just 20 minutes and 28 in all, he delivered a virtuoso performance that will live long in the memory.
Astonishing. One to tell the children about in your dotage.
Leinster will celebrate in the RDS today from 3.30pm. There will be live music, children's entertainment and, most importantly, the Heineken Cup.