Feek works 'bit of magic' to relieve pressure on pack
THE sound of wild celebrations from delirious Leinster supporters outside the Millennium Stadium provided the soundtrack as the teams attempted to put the remarkable events of the Heineken Cup final into words on Saturday.
And, while Leinster's second-half, back-from-the-grave efforts encompassed many aspects of sublime rugby-playing, the one theme that dominated observations was the turnaround in the scrum.
In the first half, the Saints' domination at the set-piece (even with a seven-man pack) provided Jim Mallinder's men with belief and impetus and left Leinster rattled. But, when they set about eradicating what looked like a decisive 22-6 deficit in the second period, it was their transformation at scrum time that set them on the path back to glory and it is hard to recall another rugby match where half-time instructions proved so critical.
"We weren't allowed to play really in the first half, and we didn't allow ourselves to play either," said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.
"I think there were six unforced errors from us, especially after line-breaks when we really should have done better with the ball. If we'd held on to the ball and kept the pressure on in that half, then we would have been okay. The other thing in the first half was the scrum. We really found it difficult to keep them down and, once they were up, we kept going backwards.
"Greg Feek (scrum coach) got the forward pack together at half-time and worked a bit of magic. We were very conscious that they come up in the scrum. We were trying to keep them down and keep them in the scrum and I thought we did that really well in the second half."
Feek's superb marshalling of the Leinster scrum has been one of the hallmarks of their season, rendering the first-half humbling all the more surprising, but the former All Black prop earned his corn at the interval.
"I was on suicide watch at half-time but after having a look at it I realised, 'hang on, we are actually causing the problem ourselves'," said Feek. "We just had to say to the boys, 'look let's just get our s*** right and try not to do too much'. We were all very down after that first 40 minutes. It was just a few technical things that I gave them to do. The technical stuff only works if you get the other stuff right too.
"These guys have got some massive heart as well. It was probably the biggest 10 minutes of my rugby career at half-time.
"I just thought about how we did against Toulouse and how we did against Leicester, who have formidable packs, and what we did in the first half just didn't make sense," he added.
"You can't blame anyone else. I blame myself first and foremost but we knew that there was something fundamental going on there. Belief played a big part in it."
Mallinder's playing days were spent as a long-striding full-back, but the Saints coach has built his side around the power of the scrum and conceded that it was this battle that determined the outcome of the war.
And the man who many believe has the credentials to be a future England coach tried valiantly to extract the positives from a debilitating defeat at the end of an encouraging season.
"It is painful, coming to a cup final and losing and seeing the other side celebrate, but what we will do, in time, is reflect on what a great season it has been for us," he said. "I am immensely proud to be part of this team. We have learned a lot this year.
"These lads have now experienced being in a final. Four years ago we were in the first division. We have come a long way. Hopefully we can stay there and we can win one of these big ones.
"At half-time, it was a case of, 'let's keep playing, keep putting the pressure on up front'. We had to keep playing but be aware because Leinster are a dangerous side capable of scoring tries.
"They came out in the second half and played well, they put us on the back foot, we had to make a lot of tackles and a lot of credit to them."