Super Sexton inspires Leinster triumph

Man of the match Jonathan Sexton was like “a man possessed” at half-time as he delivered the words that inspired Leinster to stage the greatest comeback in Heineken Cup final history.

Man of the match Jonathan Sexton was like “a man possessed” at half-time as he delivered the words that inspired Leinster to stage the greatest comeback in Heineken Cup final history.

Sexton invoked the spirit of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final success to convince Leinster all was not lost, despite Northampton leading 22-6 at the interval.

The Saints had scored tries from Phil Dowson, Ben Foden and Dylan Hartley on the back of a crushingly dominant scrum. There was seemingly no way back for Leinster.

No side had ever overturned a half-time deficit of more than nine points in a Heineken Cup final – but Sexton refused to concede defeat.

In 2005, Liverpool came from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan in Istanbul. Sexton believed Leinster were capable of producing something similar – and they did.

“There were some inspirational words from Jonathan at half-time which picked us up, he was a man possessed,” said Brian O’Driscoll.

“He said this game would be remembered if we came back and we will remember this for a long time.”

Sexton then matched his words with deeds, scoring two tries in a personal tally of 28 points as Leinster stormed to a victory rounded off by a third try from Nathan Hines.

“I watch a lot of sport and that Liverpool game just stuck in my mind for some reason,” said Sexton.

“I said that we see in sport that teams can come back like Liverpool a few years ago. Stuff like this happens.

“It felt it was gone when they got that third try, that everything we had done to get out of the pool and get to the final was down the drain.

“We were shellshocked and we needed half-time. We regrouped. We had to believe and we took our chances.

“We have leaders who stood up in the second half. We did everything in the first half we said we weren’t going to do.

“But when a team gets a score and gets the momentum going it is hard to stop. It was like a snowball effect.”

The biggest turnaround after the interval was in the scrum. Leinster had taken a hammering in the first half but turned the tables on Northampton.

Leinster boss Joe Schmidt credited scrum coach Greg Feek, the former New Zealand prop, with masterminding the set-piece transformation.

“The realisation at half-time was that we had worked for nine months and we had given it away,” said Schmidt.

“Northampton are a very good team and they took every bit of advantage. We felt we hadn’t really played, hadn’t really looked after the ball.

“The comeback was down to a lot of resolve from the players who showed a heck of a lot of character.

“We talked about belief before the game, we talked about believing in ourselves and each other. I reiterated I still believed we could do it.

“And Jonny (Sexton) was quick to reiterate that. There was a big following of that.

“Feek got the forwards together and we ironed out the scrum. We locked them down really well in the second half.

“After that it was a case of holding the ball. I spoke about that, Jonny spoke about that.

“I knew we’d have to score first at half-time. Once that happened we sensed the momentum shift. The players did and the crowd did.”

Northampton's Ben Foden said the feeling of dejection on the final whistle was ``150% the worst I have felt after a game''.

The England full-back added: “It is a bitter pill to swallow. We play this game to be in moments like this.

“This is the pinnacle of professional rugby at club level, to get to our Champions League final and going in at half time 22-6 up, we had one foot through the door.

“But no final is won in 40 minutes. They blew us away in that 15 minutes after half-time. They were crowned European champions for a reason, they played tremendously well all season.

“For a neutral it would have been a tremendous spectacle to watch, a hell of a final, but when you are on the wrong end of the result it always stings no matter how you have lost.

“We are a young team and these moments bring us together.”

Northampton were beaten by Leicester in an attritional Aviva Premiership semi-final last weekend and Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder felt his side began to tire after the interval.

Saints finished a promising season without silverware but Mallinder believes this year can be the launchpad for greater things.

“It is painful, coming to a cup final and losing and seeing the other side celebrate but what we will do, in time, is reflect on what a great season it has been for us,” he said.

“We played a very tough semi-final last week and an incredibly tough final today. I am nothing but immensely proud to be part of this team.

“We have learned a lot this year, not just tonight. We have shown we can compete with some of the best teams in Europe.

“These lads have now experienced being in a final. Leinster have been together a long time, playing at the top level.

“Four years ago we were in the first division. We have come a long way to where we are now. Hopefully we can stay there and we can win one of these big ones.

“At half time, it was a case of ’let’s keep playing, keep putting the pressure on up front’.

“I was delighted with Steve Myler’s performance, putting us in good positions with good options and kicking his goals.

“We had to keep playing but be aware because Leinster are a dangerous side capable of scoring tries.

“They came out in the second half and played well, they put us on the back foot, we had to make a lot of tackles and a lot of credit to them for the way they played.”

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