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Tuesday 29 July 2014

The sporting moments that made 2012: Magical scores lit up road to Twickenham

BRENDAN FANNING

Published 30/12/2012|05:00

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In a calendar year in which Ireland won just three of 10 Tests – the romp against Fiji doesn't count – it follows that the candidates for happy memories from 2012 should come from the middle tier. Until the last 80 minutes of the year, against Argentina, Declan Kidney's team struggled from one issue to the next, while beneath them Joe Schmidt and Brian McLaughlin were conspiring to present Irish rugby in an altogether more flattering light.

So, the highlight of 2012? Easy: the 60 seconds of colour and noise that greeted Leinster and Ulster onto the field before 81,774 punters in Twickenham last May. It was the high point of Irish professional rugby below international level, to have two teams in the final, having had all four in the premier competition for the first time. What followed was almost a sideshow, for this was Leinster at their peak, against an Ulster side still on the climb. We expected one-way traffic, and that's what we got.

Each had produced the best tries of the season, however, en route to west London. For Ulster, the fuse was lit by Craig Gilroy in Thomond Park in the quarter-final.

Ulster were six points up with 16 minutes gone – a great start, but they needed something to confirm that the home team would have to produce something special to survive this assault. Two big passes across the midfield saw Stefan Terblanche put Gilroy away down the left touchline.

He had 55 metres to go. First he beat the covering tackle of Denis Hurley, then swerved past fullback Felix Jones; next he stepped inside another covering player, Simon Zebo, and finally rode the tackle of Lifeimi Mafi to slide over and score.

It announced the joint arrival of Ulster, and Craig Gilroy, who seven months later proved that he could be equally spectacular on the international stage. The score was a mix of planning and execution, starting with Andrew Trimble attacking Ronan O'Gara's channel to get the ball rolling.

With Leinster though, at the same stage of the competition, it was one of those very rare moments when every piece of the jigsaw slots into place on the first attempt.

The end was a try for Brian O'Driscoll; the start was with Joe Schmidt in the editing suite in spotting that Cardiff were especially vulnerable to being attacked just off the back of their lineout. All that remained was for the Cardiff pawns to go where they were supposed to on the chess board and for Leinster to make six moves with absolute precision.

It was launched with Richardt Strauss's throw to the lineout, and touched down with Brian O'Driscoll behind the posts. It took 10 seconds. And nothing else in 2012 came close.

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