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O'Driscoll: Final will be a 'fantastic occasion'

As LUCK would have it, Declan Kidney will assemble his victorious Leinster and Ulster players in a one-day Irish get-together at Carton House today.

A penny for the Munster players' thoughts, perhaps, but the Heineken Cup finalists will undoubtedly have a spring in their step after an unprecedented weekend of Irish domination at the competition's penultimate stage.

"It's a fantastic occasion for Ireland to have two finalists," beamed Brian O'Driscoll, whose premature return from a shoulder surgery has dovetailed quite neatly with Leinster's double-title tilt.

"It's brilliant, it really is. It should be good fun in camp tomorrow, there should be a little bit of banter floating around.

"It's just very exciting, it really is. The reason you do all the hard work of coming back from injury and from surgery is to play in those big games and to test yourself. And it's nice when the test comes out on the right side and you get a positive result. It makes all that hard graft worthwhile."

This was a test of collective character and will more than anything else.

Unnerved by a shaky second quarter after a blisteringly quick start, "only two millimetres", as Aurelien Rougerie averred, separated winners from losers as Wesley Fofana despairingly knocked on with the line at his mercy with two minutes left.

"It's hard to immediately rank it but it feels great because it was one of those games that was really going to test us and question whether we were up to winning in France," added O'Driscoll. "It's great to get through that."

"It tested our character because they're probably the best team in France at the moment and now that they've won their first French championship this was the next thing that they were after -- they really wanted to lift that Heineken Cup.

"To give ourselves a chance to win three in four years is great but that's all it is -- an opportunity. There's still a lot of playing left and I'm sure that there'll be a province that will think that their team can do a job on us."

As Leinster admitted, they arguably had enough possession to inure themselves against having to endure those breathless final moments when Clermont were within inches of the try-line.

"We shouldn't have been only four points up with five minutes to go," agreed the Irish captain, "and that's what would annoy me, whatever about the missed penalty (Jonny Sexton's effort that was denied by the TMO).

"There were other opportunities. We put ourselves in good positions, with good turnovers and kicks into the corners, but we kind of malfunctioned a little at set-pieces at times and that kind of hurt us, because it's hard to build any momentum out there at times."

The decisive Cian Healy try in the 42nd minute may have been propelled by Sexton at half-time but it unearthed a faithful Leinster tactic, produced with timely effect to turn the tide of this game.

"We haven't used it since Cardiff away at Christmas," revealed Rob Kearney. "It's something we knew we were going to score off; we just had that belief. It's great it worked for us. Wayne (Barnes, the referee) was lucky to get out of the way for it.

"There was another play when Wayne got in the way from a midfield scrum. I think sometimes you can overlook a referee's positioning but he did well to stay out of the way because that was the changing of the game."

Such are the margins of top-class sport. And to think it all could have been undone in the final death throes.

"Nine times out of 10 Fofana scores the try," conceded Kearney.

"I was just urging the guys to throw themselves under the bus," smiled Joe Schmidt.

In the teeth of such defiance, true greatness is defined.

Irish Independent