Bitter end for Leinster
Ospreys shatter double dream in cruellest way
THE dream that seemed just one sunny day's work away for Leinster was turned into a nightmare as those dastardly Ospreys struck late through Shane Williams' - who else? - try and Dan Biggar's conversion for a thunderous 31-30 triumph.
The Welsh club became the first to win the Rabodirect PRO12 League four times in what amounted to a third straight defeat of Leinster (31-30) this season to cruelly deny the Heineken Cup champions in an epic league final.
This will leave a sour taste for Leinster. It is also their third straight denial in the PRO12 final, falling to the self-same Ospreys in 2010 and Munster in 2011.
"Yeah, a bridge too far unfortunately; but it's not for the lack of effort. The players worked very, very hard out there," said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.
"I am pretty gutted, obviously. We knew that it was going to be tough and we had to be in front in the back half of the game."
It would seem the spectre of tired minds and bodies came into focus, especially when Mike Ross was hurt early on to remove their two first-choice props -- Cian Healy was ruled out with injury -- from the fray.
"There was going to be a little bit of fatigue, and I think you get more fatigue when you are down to 14 men twice in the half," alluded Schmidt.
"That means you have to overwork a little bit. We fell off a couple of tired tackles and maybe just didn't have things bounce our way."
In truth, the Ospreys did this the hard way. They showed that their recent half-dozen victories and especially their semi-final rout of Munster was for real.
A typical poacher's try by the ageless Williams and a nerveless conversion by fly-half Dan Biggar drew a gracious concession from Schmidt.
"I thought it was a super kick by Dan Biggar from the edge and it was pretty much the same thing he did to us last time to get a one-point win (in the league)," he said.
In addition to the loss of Ross, props Heinke van der Merwe and Nathan White were sin-binned to leave holes in the Leinster defence that were taken by the devilishly clinical new PRO12 champions.
"They scored a try in each of those instances (the sin-bins). It obviously has an impact, particularly in the last 10 minutes when we felt that we would have a bit of fatigue.
"I knew that the most dangerous part of the game would be that back end.
"We really had to keep that buffer and keep our noses in front. There's a few contentious things -- there always are in finals.
"We'll have a good look at it because we're driven to improve from game to game. But a lot of those things won't happen until we get back together in a month's time."
From the beginning, Leinster had to build a lead and they did so. Hooker Sean Cronin benefited from the brilliance of centre Brian O'Driscoll, who sucked in defenders like a Hoover, to crash over before Biggar silenced the home crowd with a third penalty to make it 10-9 to the home side in the 33rd minute.
However, Isa Nacewa was jet-propelled from Jonathan Sexton's restart to whip the ball away from the Ospreys' defence and whizz to the whitewash. Sexton's conversion worsened a sickening blow to the Welsh region to make it 17-9.
This prompted a heroic eight-minute defensive action by Leinster on their own line as loose-head Heinke van der Merwe was sin-binned for dropping his bind against the ferocious Adam Jones.
It was time for the novice Jack McGrath to be called in to aid tight-head Nathan White in a seven-man scrum that managed to somehow hold out with the benefit of a decision by French referee Romain Poite.
This was an obvious point of anger for the Ospreys, who looked to have Leinster on toast. The combustible situation could have exploded as Alun-Wyn Jones and Jamie Heaslip appeared to exchange pleasantries on the way to the dressing-rooms.
This was certainly no end-of-season jaunt and the Ospreys fired the first of many wounding shots in the second-half when centre Ashley Beck hurtled over 84 seconds into the new period.
The twists and turns kept coming, Sexton splitting the posts, Williams darting over like a man far from finished at the age of 35.
The superb Nacewa looked to have struck the decisive blow for his second try, converted by Sexton in a 15-point haul, to make it 30-21, a two-score lead in the 65th minute.
Quite simply, the scrum could not hold up. White was yellow-carded for a scrum infringement.
Biggar nailed the penalty to set up a hectic endgame.
A man down in the forwards, Leinster had to rely on their defence to see it out. They could not quite get the job done as Williams squeezed to the line in the 78th minute.
Biggar showed an ice-cool composure to send the conversion straight and through the posts for what was a remarkable achievement by the Ospreys.