Planet Rugby

Leinster shock the world

02nd May 2009 19:22

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Munster Leinster

Lion Fight: Jamie Heaslip of Leinster takes on Munster's Ronan O'Gara

They did it! Leinster shocked the world by breaking out of Munster's shadow at sunny Croke Park on Saturday, booking a place in their first ever Heineken Cup Final courtesy of a runaway 25-6 victory over the reigning champions.

How they did it, we don't quite know. We doubt they even know! Could it be that they out-Munstered Munster?

The Dubliners succeeded where so many have failed: they shook the hitherto unshakeable confidence of the twice-crowned kings of Europe - and they shook it to pieces. Munster simply crumbled.

With a record crowd of 82,208 souls looking down on them, Leinster looked deep inside themselves and dragged out a performance of an intensity that many thought they were incapable of generating.

Soft city types? Leinster's label once rang with some truth, but no longer. Years of hurt, underachievement and self-doubt - even self-loathing - have been erased at a stroke.

Leinster's game plan was as audacious as it was unexpected. They took the red juggernaut head on - and won hands down.

Paul O'Connell pinpointed the breakdown and the set-piece prior to the match, almost as if to highlight his side's prowess in both areas - and the Lions skipper was stuffed in both, as were his fellow tourists. Was Donncha O'Callaghan even on the pitch?

Munster practically have rights over rugby's gainline, but they were reduced to incredulous onlookers as Leinster feasted on turnover ball. The cheek of it!

The boys in blue, with Rocky Elsom to the fore, were simply immense at the breakdown. No quarter was given. No reputations were respected. Grand Slam friendships were forgotten. Claret flowed freely, with Brian O'Driscoll's collar dyed to Munster colours by then end of the battle.

Leinster's ambush was a surprise but it unfolded with a steady beat rather than a bang: Munster had the better of their opponents in the early exchanges.

Indeed, they threatened early after an O'Driscoll clearance was charged down, and then almost picked their way through after an electric break from Keith Earls, who ran onto Lifiemi Mafi's offload and raced from halfway deep into Leinster territory.

Earls was eventually dragged down five metres out and when Munster transferred quick ball wide to Ian Dowling, Elsom was lying in wait to nail the winger and Leinster secured the turnover.

Felipe Contepomi, famously ruffled in that 2006 semi-final defeat, had a point to prove. The Argentinian made two powerful early runs and despite a shanked clearance and wayward long-range penalty he nudged Leinster ahead with a cool drop-goal.

O'Gara responded almost immediately with a penalty after Leinster loosehead Cian Healy had been sin-binned for taking out Dowling off the ball.

Leinster were unbowed. Their defensive pressure, epitomised by Elsom, was intense and they were finding holes in the Munster line.

Elsom crashed onto an inside ball and drew a penalty from the stretched defence but Contepomi suffered an apparent knee injury in the same passage of play.

Johnny Sexton came on and slotted the penalty with his first touch to push Leinster ahead.

As Contepomi left so Healy and Shane Jennings, who had been blood-binned after a blow to the head, both returned and Leinster's tails were up.

Nacewa burst onto a delightful inside ball from O'Driscoll and then floated a pass to Gordon D'Arcy, who stretched for the line to score after being grounded by Earls's tackle.

It was Leinster's first try in four European outings. Ronan O'Gara landed a penalty with his last confident kick of the game to keep Munster in touch at the interval but soon Leinster had their second try.

O'Driscoll was involved twice as Leinster worked the ball to Fitzgerald, who came in off the left wing past Paul Warwick to score. Sexton's conversion made it 18-6.

Munster reacted badly to the pressure. Twice they built prime attacking platforms inside Leinster's 22 and both times failed to chisel any kind of opening.

And Leinster then applied the sucker-punch. O'Driscoll popped up to intercept O'Gara's pass for O'Connell and the Ireland captain raced 70 metres to score under the posts.

Croke Park echoed not to the Fields of Athenry - an anthem so familiar now to these grand European occasions - but to the sound of Sweet Molly Malone. Fair city, indeed.

The scorers:

For Munster:

Pens: O'Gara 2

For Leinster:

Tries: D'Arcy, Fitzgerald, O'Driscoll

Cons: Sexton 2

Pen: Sexton

Drop: Contepomi

Yellow card(s): Healy (Leinster) - obstruction, 16.

The teams:

Munster: 15 Paul Warwick, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Lifeimi Mafi, 11 Ian Dowling, 10 Ronan O'Gara, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Denis Leamy, 7 David Wallace, 6 Alan Quinlan, 5 Paul O'Connell (capt), 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 John Hayes, 2 Jerry Flannery, 1 Marcus Horan.

Replacements: 16 Denis Fogarty, 17 Tony Buckley, 18 Mick O'Driscoll, 19 Niall Ronan, 20 Mike Prendergast, 21 Barry Murphy, 22 Denis Hurley.

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Felipe Contepomi, 9 Chris Whitaker, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Malcolm O'Kelly, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Stan Wright, 2 Bernard Jackman, 1 Cian Healy.

Replacements: 16 John Fogarty, 17 Ronan McCormack, 18 Devin Toner, 19 Sean O'Brien, 20 Simon Keogh, 21 Jonathan Sexton, 22 Girvan Dempsey

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)

Assistants: Nigel Whitehouse (WRU), Hugh Watkins (WRU)

TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

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