Tuesday 23 October 2018

'It was like winning a fight without a throwing a punch' - Cian Healy

Leinster 15 Racing 92 12

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates with team-mates Jamison Gibson-Park and James Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates with team-mates Jamison Gibson-Park and James Ryan. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

When he's not accumulating an impressive collection of medals, Cian Healy spends his spare time making knives and fittingly he cut through all of the post-match commentary with his assessment of the 80 minutes that delivered his fourth European title.

In bringing the European Champions Cup final outside of the traditional venues, the tournament organisers hoped to help grow the game, but as a spectacle this was no advertisement for rugby.

Leinster players, from left, Tadhg Furlong, Jordi Murphy and Luke McGrath celebrate with the cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster players, from left, Tadhg Furlong, Jordi Murphy and Luke McGrath celebrate with the cup. Photo: Sportsfile

As the wind and rain whipped in from the Bay of Biscay, Racing 92 dragged Leinster into a back-alley brawl and just couldn't last the pace. It was enthralling, but you couldn't call it pretty.

"It was probably like winning a fight without throwing a punch," Healy summed up.

"We didn't really get to unleash anything we'd planned. Their defence was rock solid, savage, so we just had to grind our way through it.

"It's not what we're used to. We've been trying to play with a lot of flair, a lot of set plays and special moves, but it's nice to be able to do that as well.

Leinster's Isa Nacewa of Leinster kicks a penalty. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Isa Nacewa of Leinster kicks a penalty. Photo: Sportsfile

Romantic

"I don't particularly want to watch it. I'll keep a romantic view of it and not watch it ever."

He won't be alone in that, but in getting to the final Leinster provided plenty of memories for their fans. The big day is about one thing, the result, and thanks to Isa Nacewa's penalty 90 seconds from time they managed to get over the line.

That kick gave Leinster the lead for the first time after Racing made a mockery of the bookmakers' odds, many pundits' confident predictions and even their own injury list to take the best team in Europe to the limit.

Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park is tackled by Racing 92's Yannick Nyanga. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park is tackled by Racing 92's Yannick Nyanga. Photo: Sportsfile

Having lost their captain Maxime Machenaud and long-serving leader Dimitri Szarzewski in the weeks between the semi-final and final, they then suffered a further blow when Dan Carter pulled out. Within two minutes, starting No 10 Pat Lambie pulled up and suddenly third-choice out-half Remi Tales was in.

When he stepped up for a late drop goal to tie the game he never looked like making it.

Still, Racing came away with the full respect of the victors, who were dragged into a game they didn't want to play by the relentlessly physical French side.

"The utterances I'd heard from the bookies all week were crazy," hooker Seán Cronin said.

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton. Photo: Sportsfile

"I don't know what the spread was... 10 points? C'mon! They've internationals all over their team, how strong they were, I thought it was crazy.

"We knew that they were going to be in the game for 80 minutes.

"It's so pleasing that we could get over the line. We played well and performed all year, if we'd lost today it would have been a killer for us."

If Racing had managed to win the game, then the final would be remembered for the performance of their little-known scrum-half Teddy Iribaren, who deputised for Machenaud brilliantly to kick his team into a winning position.

The rain helped, but a dogged Racing pack successfully slowed the Leinster machine right down. When Johnny Sexton quick-tapped a penalty that should have either gone over the bar or into touch before half-time, you could sense the Irish side's frustration.

Quick ball was not forthcoming, the French side's line-speed was relentless, but their discipline kept them in the game.

Leone Nakarawa - later crowned European Player of the Year - was lucky not to see a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on and ultimately the tit-for-tat penalties made for a taut spectacle as the first-half finished 9-9.

"At half-time we came in and everyone was looking around, it had been such a slow first-half I don't think anybody was out of breath, and no-one felt it in their legs," Cronin said.

"We kind of let them back into the game at stages, giving away penalties, and they got a crucial turnover just before half-time as well. They were frustrating parts of the day and I just think everyone is relieved."

Knowing their opponents tend to fade in the last quarter, Leinster hung on in and survived an attacking onslaught.

Cronin, Dan Leavy and the outstanding James Ryan met fire with fire and Nacewa, who had taken over the kicking duties from Sexton after he tweaked his groin, levelled from the tee and it was noticeable that some of the French forwards were slowing and walking to the ball.

More ill-discipline allowed Sexton put Leinster in position, but Nakarawa stole James Tracy's throw and the chance looked to be gone until Teddy Thomas inexplicably ignored the safety of the in-field support and headed back for the touchline.

Jack Conan got there first and hunted him into touch. From the lineout Tales strayed offside and Nacewa kicked the winner.

Still, they couldn't relax as the Top 14 side went in search of a kick to send the game to extra-time. Leinster, however, kept their discipline and forced them into a drop goal attempt from Tales that never convinced.

LEINSTER - R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 62); C Healy (J McGrath 55), S Cronin (J Tracy 62), T Furlong (A Porter 66); D Toner, J Ryan; S Fardy, D Leavy, J Murphy (J Conan 62).

RACING 92 - L Dupichot (J Rokocoko 30-38 HIA); T Thomas, V Vakatawa, H Chavancy, M Andreu; P Lambie, T Iribaren; E Ben Arous (V Kakovin 55), C Chat (O Avei 45-55 HIA, 59), C Gomes Sa (C Johnston 55); D Ryan, L Nakarawa; W Lauret, B Le Roux (B Chouzenoux 70), Y Nyanga (capt).

Ref - W Barnes (England)

Irish Independent

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