LEINSTER FANS THIS afternoon welcomed back their victorious Heineken Cup heroes to Dublin.
Captain Leo Cullen and his team-mates paraded the European Cup trophy in front of their fans at the RDS.
Leinster pulled off a stunning second-half comeback to beat the Northampton Saints 33-22 in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Coach Joe Schmidt claimed he has little to do with the post-interval turnaround however.
“To be honest, it had little to do with me. It had to do with a lot of resolve from the players who showed a lot of character.
“We got the forwards together at the break because we knew we had to lock them down in the scrum. We locked them down really well in the second half and then it was just a case of holding the ball. I spoke about that , Jonny spoke about it.
“In the first half, I think we did make some pretty good breaks but we kept giving the ball back to them or making an error at the end and inevitably they’d get a scrum and clear their lines with it.
“We talked about belief before the game. We talked about believing in ourselves and in each other. So, at half-time, I reiterated that. However, I knew that we’d have to score first after half time and I think that was pivotal. Once that happened, I think the momentum shifted. The players sensed the momentum shift and certainly the crowd did.
“I thought Sean [O’Brien] did really well in the first half. I thought we stole a few balls in the first half and our back-row pressure was pretty strong.
“Jenno [Shane Jennings] is a very vocal guy, he’s very much a leader. But I think it would be tough on Kevin McLaughlin to say that it was a one-man switch. There was a lot more in it than that. There was a number of elements that fed into what was a really good turnaround in the second half.
“There was a feeling at half-time that we’d worked really hard for nine months and now we’d just given it away. That’s no disrespect to Northampton, they’re a very good team. But at the same time, we just felt that we hadn’t really played, we hadn’t looked after the ball well enough. If there was one thing we talked about before the game, it was having belief and looking after the ball. We stuck to the belief which was great and then in the second half we looked after the ball.
“It was two very different sets of forty minutes. You can’t even say it was the wind because the roof was closed, but it’s true that all the rugby was played at one end of the pitch. Maybe they tired a little bit in the second half because they had one less day to recover. For Northampton, fatigue was probably a little bit of factor in the second half.”
And the manager claimed the Irish province’s travelling support helped bring home the cup.
“What a fantastic crowd,” he said in the post-game conference, “They came over in their swarms and I certainly think they helped.”
Jonny Sexton won the man-of-the-match award at out half. The Irish international said the half-time discussion was a lively affair.
“There were a good few voices in the dressing room at half time. It’s great that we have so many leaders on our team that really stood up in the second half and we didn’t panic.
“I suppose the same thing happened to us down in Thomond Park. When the other team gets the next score and gets a bit of momentum going, it’s hard to stop. We got into it and it just snowballed from there. I didn’t think it was going to go as well as it did, but it did. It’s just a special day .
“It is hard when you’ve got a big lead in a game like that. You don’t really know what to do with the ball at times. You’re worried that if you play, they might get a scrappy try. It’s tough some times when you’re in the lead. As I said, we got good experience down in Thomond Park a few weeks ago and it stood to us.
“We spoke about holding the ball and managing the set pieces. Our management team were very calm and told us what we needed to do.
Skipper Leo Cullen admitted his side cut loose after the break in a frantic attempt to bridge the points gap.
“We were a little bit guilty of going around too much on our loose-head side. Mujati stays really tight to Hartley and they just pincer in and they were driving through the middle of us. They’ve destroyed a few scrums already and we knew it was going to be a tough ask. I think we were a little bit guilty of just going off on our own a bit in that first half. It was just a case of using our brains a little bit and thankfully Mike managed to turn it around,” he said.
“We have a big psychological tool in the scrum and when you’ve got a little bit of go-forward there, it has a huge knock-on effect in terms of momentum.
“At half-time, we didn’t really have much option but to go out and play the game and to play the way we know we’re capable of playing. Certainly when you’re 16 points down, the shackles are off. It makes it almost easier because there’s nothing to defend,” he added.
- additional reporting Niall Kelly