Leinster clinch Amlin Challenge Cup
Published 17/05/2013 | 23:07
Leinster emulated Chelsea by winning the Amlin Challenge Cup to ease the blow of losing their status of European champions - and they did it in style by beating Stade Francais 34-13.
The Irish province destroyed Stade Francais at the RDS Arena, running in tries from Ian Madigan, Sean Cronin and Rob Kearney to take a commanding 21-6 lead at the interval.
Cian Healy came off the bench to score the fourth and Jonathan Sexton kicked 14 points as Leinster claimed the first half of a potential trophy double, with the RaboDirect PRO12 final to come against Ulster next week.
Like Chelsea with the Champions League and Europa League, Leinster hold both continental titles simultaneously, although they do so for fewer than 24 hours. Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon clash with Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup final at Dublin's Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Brian O'Driscoll was sidelined by a back spasm and his battle for fitness is sure to be a theme for the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia. Leinster were still able to field four Lions in Kearney, Sexton, Sean O'Brien and captain Jamie Heaslip, with Healy coming off the bench. All made their mark, which will have pleased Warren Gatland.
Heineken Cup champions in three of the last four years, Leinster had dropped into the second tier competition after finishing behind Clermont in their pool. But Joe Schmidt's side remain one of the most formidable teams in Europe and proved as much with a brilliantly clinical performance in attack and defiant defensive display.
Leinster took just three minutes to hit their stride with a break from Fijian wing Ica Nacewa and Sexton sent Madigan over for the opening try. That sparked a breathless first half in which Leinster twice repelled Stade Francais, with fly-half Jules Plisson tackled into touch before O'Brien and Sexton combined brilliantly to deny centre Paul Williams.
Sergio Parisse was in inspirational form for Stade but Leinster withstood the French barrage and hit back in devastating fashion, with Andrew Conway rising above Julien Dupuy to collect a high ball from Isaac Boss before sending Cronin over for the try.
Jerome Porical kicked Stade Francais onto the scoreboard but Leinster responded. Nacewa fielded Sexton's cross-kick and then slipped a pass out of the tackle for Kearney to dive over. Porical landed a long distance penalty just before the interval but that was rubbed out when Sexton struck two of his own in the second half to extend Leinster's lead.
Stade worked a consolation try for wing Jeremy Sinzelle, who drove his way through Kearney and Fergus McFadden, who was injured in the process, to score in the corner. But Leinster were irrepressible and Healy drove over from close range and Sexton's conversion - his sixth successful kick from six attempts - rounded off an emphatic victory.