Leinster were left to rue a golden opportunity for double glory for the second year in-a-row when they lost the RaboDirect Pro12 plot in sight of the victory podium at the RDS yesterday.
Few backed against them before the match, fewer still gave the Ospreys a fighting chance 10 minutes from the end, but the visitors came through with a scintillating late flurry to crown themselves worthy champions.
Ironically, and probably deservedly, the man-of-the-match award went to Leinster’s Isa Nacewa who did everything to save his side’s reputation, but the glory ultimately went to Shane Williams whose 77th minute try was crucial, although the conversion from Dan Biggar had to be inch perfect.
Bitterly disappointed Leinster had, in many respects, only themselves to blame for losing a nine-point advantage inside so near the finish. The home supporters were not too happy with French referee Romain Poite’s performance, and with some justification for having constantly penalised the home side at scrum time.
But Leinster paid the price for having Heinke van der Merwe and Nathan White sin-binned towards the end of each half, a period where they conceded tries at both times.
Leinster captain Leo Cullen admitted he found it “difficult” to get the referee to explain some of his decisions and he wouldn’t be the first Irish-based captain to complain of Monsieur Poite’s arrogant lack of co-operation.
With nothing between the sides, it was no surprise they were still on level terms 15 minutes into the match, Biggar kicking an opening penalty and Sexton, who fluffed an early effort, responding for the Heineken Cup champions.
The Welsh side grabbed the initiative back in 21 minutes with a second penalty from Biggar but many in the crowd felt they were hard done by not to have been awarded a penalty try after their all out assault was disrupted by an illegal incursion to a ruck from the side.
Leinster responded quickly though with the opening try of the game, brilliantly created through slick handling before Sean Cronin powered over in at the corner and Sexton converted for a 10-6 lead.
Remarkably, the whole pattern of game changed within seconds. Biggar kicked his third penalty on 31 minutes to reduce the arrears and Nacewa struck for a second try from the kick off which Sexton converted to push the score out to 17-9.
What followed was even more bizarre, with Leinster losing prop forward Van der Merwe to a yellow card and having to survive several scrums near the line.
The Welsh side did have some consolation from the restart when Ashley Beck grabbed a 42nd minute try, converted by Biggar, but Sexton pushed the lead back out with a brace of penalties until Shane Williams rounded off a great career with a try to bring his side to within two points at 23-21.
However, Nacewa was to prove a huge thorn in the Ospreys’ side. His brilliant 64th minute run, chip and chase, forced the Welsh side to concede a line out. From there, Leinster surged forward and Nacewa was on hand to pick up a loose ball that Sexton converted to push the score to 30-21.
But that was never going to be enough against a lively and determined Welsh side. Biggar kicked a 72nd minute penalty and brilliantly converted Williams’ 78th minute try to secure another title for the Ospreys and leave Leinster wondering what they ever have to do to achieve the coveted double.
LEINSTER: R Kearney, F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa, J Sexton, E Reddan, H van der Merwe, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (captain), D Toner, K McLaughlin, J Heaslip, S Jennings.
Replacements: N White for Ross (13, inj.), B Thorn for Cullen (45), R Strauss for Cronin, D Ryan for Jennings (73). Temporary. J McGrath for McLaughlin (39-46).
OSPREYS: R Fussell, H Dirksen, A Bishop, A Beck, S Williams, D Biggar, R Webb, P James, R Hibbard, A Jones, A W Jones (captain), I Evans, R Jones, J Bearman, J Tipuric.
Replacements: K Fotuali’i for Webb (55), R Bevington for James, J King for Evans (both 65), S Baldwin for Hibbard, Jarvis for Jones (both 73).
Referee: R Poite (France).
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