Leinster stuns in European Cup rugby win

by RUGBY.com.au staff

Jonathan Sexton inspired Leinster to the greatest comeback in a European Cup rugby union final as they beat Northampton 33-22 at Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

The Irish province were 22-6 down at halftime but, with five-eighth Sexton to the fore, they stunned a Northampton side who could not manage a score in the second half.

Ireland international Sexton scored two tries, just after the break, which knocked the stuffing out of Northampton to add to three conversions and four penalties for a personal haul of 28 points.

Leinster become the fifth side in the history of the competition to win it more than once, joining Wasps, Toulouse, Leicester and Munster.

Sexton, a pivotal figure in Ireland's Six Nations win over England in Dublin in March, did a similar job at club level as Leinster made it two European Cup triumphs in three years.

Leinster and Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll later revealed it was Sexton's "inspirational words" at the interval which helped restore the team's self belief.

"We had some choice words at halftime," O'Driscoll told Sky Sports.

"We knew if we could hold on to the ball, we had them in trouble.

"There were some inspirational words from Jonathan at halftime which picked us up. He was a man possessed. He said this game would be remembered if we came back and we will remember this for a long time."

Northampton coach Jim Mallinder said his first-choice team had paid the price for playing two gruelling games on successive weekends, following their English playoff-semi defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Leicester.

"We were tired. You could tell at halftime," he said.

Leinster had clearly taken a gamble on the fitness of O'Driscoll, the centre included despite struggling with a knee injury all week.

Thanks to Northampton's excellent start, he did not touch the ball for 20 minutes and, when O'Driscoll did get a break going, he was tackled by England fullback Ben Foden.

But the 118-times capped O'Driscoll made Northampton pay in the second half when, in concert with Sexton, he put them to the sword.

Northampton were on the front foot in the scrum, even when prop Brian Mujati was sin-binned in the 26th minute, by which time the 2000 European Cup winners were 10-3 up.

Flanker Phil Dowson had opened the scoring in the seventh minute after being put away by Jon Clarke.

Although Mujati was off the field, Northampton added a second try through Foden, with O'Driscoll missing a vital tackle close to the line.

Leinster turned the match on its head at the start of the second half, with Sexton going over four minutes after the break and centre Gordon D'Arcy being denied shortly after by the video referee.

Sexton went over for his second try and with his conversion took Leinster to within two points and it was Northampton who were hanging on.

His 57th-minute penalty gave Leinster the lead and by then they had scored 17 unanswered points in as many minutes since halftime and were a transformed side.

O'Driscoll was equally rejuvenated and, by the time Scotland second rower Nathan Hines went over for Leinster's third try, Northampton had no answers.