Leinster stun Saints
Irish side come from 22-6 down to score second Cup success
By Michael Wise. Last Updated: 23/05/11 8:42am
Sexton: Scored 28 points for Leinster on Saturday
Leinster staged a remarkable second-half comeback to beat Northampton 33-22 and win the Heineken Cup at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The Irish side appeared on the ropes in the first half as their opponents romped into a 22-6 lead - Saints scoring almost at will through Phil Dowson, Ben Foden and Dylan Hartley.
Northampton's scrum was also well on top, while Leinster's woes were compounded by handling errors. However, they then proceeded to mount what is surely the finest fightback in cup final history.
Jonathan Sexton, who scored 28 points in all, crossed twice as his side moved back in front after 20 minutes of second-half play that left the Saints shell-shocked.
Nathan Hines then added another as Leinster added to their 2009 victory in European rugby's premier competition.
The first half was all about the Saints. They started putting together phases immediately but despite the bludgeoning efforts of the likes of Soane Tonga'uiha, their opponents initially stood firm.
However, the Northampton pack also quickly found itself dominant in the scrum and it was from the second of these that the Saints took the lead in the seventh minute.
After their forwards had given their side the required momentum, the ball was fed left, with Calum Clark making valuable headway by stepping inside - into space created by Roger Wilson holding on to Shane Horgan's ankle - before finding Dowson on the overlap.
Stephen Myler converted for 7-0, with a sign that Leinster were struggling to get going coming moments later when Gordon D'Arcy fumbled Sexton's pass inside Northampton's 22.
Even so, the Ireland fly-half put his side's first points on the board with a penalty in the 14th minute, with Myler restoring Northampton's advantage with a long-range effort seven minutes later.
Leinster responded aggressively with two quick breaks, the second of which saw Horgan, Sean O'Brien and Brian O'Driscoll linking up, but the latter was tackled by Foden before Northampton's scrum superiority won out.
The Irish side were clearly struggling at this stage and even though Northampton lost Brian Mujati to the sin bin their persistent probing ended with Foden's 31st-minute score.
Myler converted again before Sexton kicked another for Leinster five minutes before half-time. However, they set Northampton up in prime territory once more with a handling error straight from the re-start.
The ball was eventually played right towards Chris Ashton and although the England wing could not cross, strength in numbers soon forced Hartley over, although Myler's conversion attempt on the stroke of the break hit the post.
Finding themselves 16 points down, all expectations were of an aggressive start to the second half by Leinster - and so it proved.
Although the first wave of attack ended after 11 phases when Northampton turned the ball over, a break inspired by O'Driscoll ended with Sexton crossing for five much-needed points.
Two more followed with the conversion, although hearts were in mouths as the ball bounced off the left-hand post before crossing.
The match was now all about Leinster and they were unlucky not to have scored a second when D'Arcy crossed in the 51st minute - the inside centre being denied by the lack of clear video evidence he had grounded the ball.
It came soon enough - less than two minutes later, in fact, when Sexton picked up Jamie Heaslip's roll-round ball and evaded several challenges to cross.
He then converted and suddenly, Leinster were just two points behind with 26 minutes still to play.
They were in the lead seconds later when their scrum got its act together and forced a penalty which Sexton duly dispatched.
Northampton's woes were compounded when Dowson was sin-binned for coming in at the side - sacrificing himself, really, as his intervention denied a likely try for Isa Nacewa.
Sexton kicked the resulting three points, and did so again in the 65th minute after his monopolisation of the points board was ended by Hines in the right-hand corner.
Finally a blemish for Sexton, whose penalty miss in the 69th minute denied him the points record for a Heineken Cup final.
Evidence that Saints' spirit was not quite broken came when Foden and Ashton made serious inroads with 10 minutes left, but the game was up five minutes later when nine phases of attack came to an end with Joe Ansbro's fumble.