Leinster 42-14 Ulster
THE KINGS HAVE taken back their throne. Leinster are the champions of Europe for the third time in four seasons after a barnstorming final in which their class ultimately told, reminding Ulster — and the world — just how devastating they can be.
First-half tries from man of the match Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy set the defending champions on the road in a game littered with moments of individual magic from both teams.
Despite a game Ulster challenge in the second and a lifeline try from the superb Dan Touhy, Leinster never let their stranglehold slip before replacements Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin ran in their fourth and fifth tries late on to finish off the job in the most professional of manners.
The margin of victory doesn’t do justice to what was a classic final witnessed by a record crowd of 81,774, many of whom shared the hours before kick-off laughing and chatting on the streets of Twickenham, white jerseys and blue melding into one proud Irish mass.
Feisty Ulster start
The amicable relations stopped at the front gate. To have any chance of causing an upset, Ulster knew that they would have to be the aggressors and take the game to Leinster from the off. They did just that in both the loose and the tight, winning a penalty from the first scrum and bashing their way to early gains through Touhy’s early carries.
In the build-up to today’s game, much was made of the need for discipline at the breakdown under the stringent eye of Nigel Owens.
Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar opened the scoring with one of his easier kicks, splitting the posts after Leinster had been penalized for going in off the feet.
That scare shook Leinster into action and they began to dominate possession. A rare mental blip from Stefan Terblanche gave them excellent field position, the full-back hoofing the ball into touch on the full, oblivious to the fact that it had been carried back inside 22.
Once the door had been opened, Leinster took full advantage with a series of lines that swept through the Ulster rearguard like a scimitar, leaving it in ribbons. Gordon D’Arcy’s inside pass found Kearney just as he was shifting into top gear.
O’Brien steps up
The full-back is the prohibitive front-runner to be named European Player of the Year and his composure today strengthened those claims. He thundered through Pedrie Wannenburg as if he wasn’t there and carried inside the Ulster five before finding Sean O’Brien to score.
Nigel Owens took a long hard look at the grounding, with Ruan Pienaar nudging the ball loose in the tackle but not enough to knock it from O’Brien’s control.
Sexton added the extras, and though he missed on opportunity to stretch their lead with a penalty, a moment of counter-attacking brilliance shortly after the half-hour mark ensured that Leinster took a firm hold on the pulsating contest.
The try had Cian Healy’s fingerprints all over it. The loosehead won a scrum near the halfway mark against the head and, after the most brilliant of inside reverses from Brian O’Driscoll and jinking run from O’Brien, Healy got back up onto his packmate’s shoulder to apply the finish.
Cian Healy crashes over for Leinster’s second try. (©INPHO/Colm O’Neill)
It was Leinster at their finest, and it left Ulster rattled. Rookie out-half Paddy Jackson was affected more than most, not releasing his backs when they created a three-on-two overlap and then snatching at drop goal which skewed horribly off his boot and wide.
Brian McLaughlin’s men did finish the half with their tails in the air, Pienaar landing a monster 60-yard penalty with the final kick to send them in just eight points in arrears, 14-6 at the break.
But any real hope of drawing the champions into a pitch battle seemed to be snuffed out within five minutes of the restart, Leinster executing a perfect rolling maul that has so often been the trademark of their Munster rivals.
Hauled down within inches of the line, it left Nigel Owens with little option but to award a penalty try.
Recognising the need for drastic measures, McLaughlin called Jackson ashore and sent on the departing Ian Humphreys to see if he could provide one final spark before he moves to London Irish next season.
It worked and Ulster immediately improved as Sexton and Pienaar exchanged penalties. Humphreys’ presence and proactivity encouraged his backs to take more positive attacking lines.
Ulster controlled the ball beautifully in the run up to Touhy’s try, enjoying an 84-16 share of possession from 5oth to 60th minutes. Paddy Wallace sold the final dummy which allowed Tuohy to go over in the corner, but it left Pienaar with a tough conversion that started right and never drifted back in.
That score brought Ulster back to within 10 points with a quarter of the game to play and, for a fleeting moment, it seemed that they might be able to force a nervy finale.
A pair of Sexton penalties put the game beyond them again and as Joe Schmidt emptied the bench and the travelling blue support started their celebrations, van der Merwe and Cronin added the final touches to another unforgettable day.
Pienaar pen, 0-3 8 mins; O’Brien try, Sexton con, 7-3 13 mins; Healy try, Sexton con, 14-3 32 mins; Pienaar pen, 14-6 40 mins (HT); Leinster penalty try, Sexton con, 21-6 45 mins; Pienaar pen, 21-9 49 mins; Sexton pen, 24-9 52 mins; Touhy try, 24-14 61 mins; Sexton pen, 27-14 68 mins; Sexton pen, 30-14 74 mins; van der Merwe try, 35-14 76 mins; Cronin try, Madigan conversion, 42-14 80 mins.
Leinster: R Kearney (D Kearney 72); F McFadden, B O’Driscoll (D Kearney 66-72), G D’Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton (I Madigan 73), E Reddan (J Cooney 73); C Healy (H Van der Merwe 61), R Strauss (S Cronin 66), M Ross (N White 69); L Cullen (c, D Toner 57), B Thorn, K McLaughlin (S Jennings 61), S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Ulster: S Terblanche; A Trimble (A D’Arcy 79), D Cave, P Wallace, C Gilroy; P Jackson (I Humphreys 45), R Pienaar; T Court (P McAllister 74), R Best, J Afoa (D Fitzpatrick 74); J Muller (c), D Tuohy (L Stevenson 79); S Ferris, C Henry (W Faloon 66), P Wannenburg.