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Good fortune favours brave Blues

THERE was no evidence on the face of Brian O'Driscoll at the final whistle. It was deadpan. You would not know whether Leinster had won or lost unless you turned to the scoreboard.

There it was. In bright lights. A four-point game. 19-15. A third Heineken Cup final in four years. A shot at history. A glimpse of a deepening legacy.

And still the perfectionist inside of Brian O'Driscoll could not be contained: "It wasn't a great finish from our point of view. We felt we were a bit better than the four-point lead we had to close out the last 10 minutes," he said.

The otherwise perfect Jonathan Sexton could have stretched four to seven in the 70th minute. Touch Judge Nigel Owens ruled his penalty had cleared the top of the posts. The TMO confirmed the failed attempt.

"When that penalty was ruled as not over, we just got into defensive mode a little bit. They got a sniff and came at us.

"They resorted to their default game which is an excellent pick-and-drive game. We just sat-off, sat-off, sat-off and had to go to a TMO for a decision. It was a bit too tight when you're talking semi-final time."

It is also very early in the year for an All-Ireland final. That won't bother Leinster or Ulster or, indeed, Connacht, who will play in the Heineken Cup next season because of that very fact.

It could have been so different. The inspirational moments from full-back Rob Kearney, heroic defence, led by O'Driscoll, and that touch of good fortune you need in the South of France were all on view and will be stored in the history vaults for ever more.

When the current Ireland captain hangs up his armband and his natural successor Paul O'Connell concludes his stint, there are three emerging candidates to take on this responsibility.

Number eight Jamie Heaslip is undefeated as Leinster captain. He leads from the front, Rob Kearney from the back, and Jonathan Sexton from somewhere in between the two.

Sexton was at the heart of the quickfire five-minute, 10-point turnaround from a 12-6 deficit at half-time to a lead of four by the 47th minute.

The only try of the game, by prop Cian Healy, was triggered in the dressing-room and arrived even before coach Joe Schmidt had returned to his match seat in the Stade Chaban Delmas stand.

"Funnily enough, it was exactly the play that we called. Let's do this next. Johnny called it at half-time, so his legend continues really," revealed Schmidt.

Of course, it was Sexton who roused his fading colleagues from shellshock in the 2011 Heineken Cup final. Again, he led the recharge to glory.

While Sexton calls the plays, full-back Rob Kearney is the man making the most of them in what is turning into his best season as an all-round force in defence and attack.

Clermont fly-half Brock James did not even bother to test Kearney with a bomb from the clouds for the imposing Aurelien Rougerie to contest.

The Louth man's fingertip passing twice opened the door for Isa Nacewa in the first-half. He cut Clermont open to make Cian Healy's try, landed a monster drop goal and was almost perfect in possession of the ball.

Ever the rugby analyst, Schmidt was not about to point out what went right when so much went wrong in the first-half.

"I really felt we played really good rugby in the first 20 minutes of the game. I thought we made three clean line breaks that we didn't finish. We got one penalty from those.

"We felt in the back half of the first-half we hadn't really played. We had gone into our shell a little bit. We also needed a platform.

"Our lineout was struggling. They got a couple of penalties at scrum time. We really needed to shore up those two areas of the game to make sure we could get the ball to get the quality of play we wanted to try to produce.

"We started the second-half really well. I thought the try was as good as you'd see from a set piece. We backed that up with some really good pressure

"Unfortunately, we couldn't extend it out to the seven points to give me a little bit of heart relief. But, we hung really tough at the end."

There is a thread of similarity that holds O'Driscoll and Schmidt together. Their only drug is winning. Trophies are their only currency. The Heineken Cup-PRO12 League is still possible.

They have won nothing yet.


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