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Blue Heaven

FORGET a game of two halves, this was a game of inches.

The Leinster lions roared in Bordeaux last night -- but not until after they breathed a massive sigh of relief.

Amid a sea of blue and yellow, Joe Schmidt's sporting stars battled their way to another victory and the Blue army cheered them all the way to an All Ireland final in England.

The noise in the Stade Chaban Delmas was deafening as our 2,000 supporters spurred on BOD and the boys with choruses of Allez Les Bleus and Molly Malone.

And even the weather played its part. Bordeaux's flooded streets dried up just in time for the memorable occasion.

After five days of solid showers, the rain finally gave way and 32,397 rugby revellers basked in the Sunday sunshine.

Just as Clermont did two years ago, the Leinster soldiers marched their way through the streets of Bordeaux as they prepared for an epic battle.

They stopped trams, they halted traffic and they ran the Clermont gauntlet into the stands.

The march began at 1.45pm local time when thousands of face painted and blue-shirted supporters wove their way to the outskirts of Bordeaux.

Conor Houlihan, from Walkinstown, told the Herald that seeing such a united front was mind-blowing.

"The march was the most incredible march of all time, we've never done nothing anything like that before. It was unbelievable."

March organiser Orla Brennan, who led the crowds, admitted she was astonished when she met a wall of Clermont crew, who greeted her with a good luck banner as gaeilge.

Meanwhile, Conor said that the pressure from the 75th minute was overwhelming.

"It was the most nerve-wracking match of my life, we're exhausted after it all. I was pessimistic during the first half, but once we got the try we turned it and got really stuck in in the second half. I thought Rob Kearney was a game changer, he was outstanding. We're just so delighted to have won."

Fans have already booked their flights to London for the grand finale on May 19, as Leinster take on Ulster in the first ever all-Ireland showdown for the European trophy.

Castleknock native Robbie Dunne, who lives in Barcelona, said: "I'm bringing my dad Seamus to Twickenham, he played for Ulster for five years, I can't wait, it'll be very special."

He insisted he couldn't miss the chance to watch the boys this weekend.

"We were outnumbered easily by four to one, but it wasn't intimidating at all. They booed and hissed at us, but we just carried on and played well ...

"I was so nervous I watched the last 10 minutes in the bar outside the stadium, I had to leave, I pulled about 20,000 hairs out of my head.

"I was never completely convinced we were going to lose, but for about two thirds of the game I feared the worst.

"With two minutes to go, with Clermont camped on our line, it was panicky -- my real worry was a penalty try."

Sutton friends Melissa Furze and Aoife Sheridan could barely talk after the game.

"We lost our voice but it was totally worth it. It was awesome. We thought we were going to lose it at the end, it was very tense.

"It was terrifying, Clermont are the best side in France, with the best supporters, we're so thrilled we beat them."

Our next challenge will be the biggest of all and for the first time in Irish rugby history, two native teams will go head-to-head for the coveted silverware.

labutler@herald.ie


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