Rampant Leinster crush Ulster to retain Cup
Leinster racked up the records by thrashing Ulster 42-14 at Twickenham on Saturday to win the Heineken Cup for the third time in four years as the first all-Irish final turned into a celebration for Europe’s most dominant side.
Their five tries was a final record and the victory was the highest score and biggest winning margin in the competition’s 17-year history, all watched by a Heineken Cup record crowd of 81 774.
First-half tries by Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy — after an inspired pass by Brian O’Driscoll — put the holders 14-6 ahead at the break and a penalty try stretched the lead.
Replacements Heinke Van der Merwe and Sean Cronin put the icing on the cake with late tries to spark wild scenes in the temporarily Irish corner of south-west London.
Leinster’s victory made them the first team to go through a Heineken Cup campaign unbeaten and with three titles they move second behind Toulouse (four) in the roll of honour of Europe’s elite club competition.
“After we won one we talked about not being content and trying to create some sort of dynasty and we are going in the direction for that,” O’Driscoll told Sky Sports. “I know this team and they will be hungry for more.
“We played for each other today and the energy was great from the whole squad. Two replacements coming on and scoring tries says it all.”
Leinster went into the game as favourites but Ulster, who had stunned Munster away in the quarter-finals, started strongly in their first final appearance since they won the trophy in 1999 and they led with a Ruan Pienaar penalty.
Leinster soon took command, though, and after a breakdown turnover they put together a series of trademark quick passes to set up flanker O’Brien for the opening try after 10 minutes.
O’Driscoll, who missed the pool stages after a shoulder operation and had keyhole surgery on his knee eight days ago, showed a moment of sheer brilliance to set up the second try after half an hour.
It came when Leinster won a scrum against the head — the first time Ulster had lost one throughout the tournament — and when Leinster cut loose the 33-year-old centre delivered an inspired backhand inside pass to O’Brien who opened the hole for prop Healy to crash through.
Jonny Sexton converted both but Pienaar kept Ulster in touch at 14-6 at halftime with a mighty penalty from well inside his own half.
Leinster’s pack, often overlooked as the plaudits rain down on their brilliant backs, took centre stage six minutes after the restart.
After another error by Ulster flyhalf Paddy Jackson, who departed soon after following a wretched display, the Leinster forwards set up a driving maul that Ulster could only haul down illegally to concede a penalty try.
Ulster got their first try after an hour through lock Dan Tuohy but it merely stung Leinster back into attack and they earned another six points from Sexton penalties to break the spirit of the northerners and Van der Merwe and Cronin added late tries.
“We’ve worked hard in the last 10 months and today was the day where we had to go for it and thankfully we got the win,” said man of the match O’Brien.
“It’s a strong squad and we really want to kick on. Every time we put on a blue shirt there’s an energy around us.
“We trusted the team and we trusted the system. At times today there were lots of mistakes but winning is important and that’s what we did.”
It was a disappointing way to bow out for departing Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin but he praised Leinster for their strong finish.
“It was really only in the last 16 minutes that Leinster moved away as the game was very much in the balance,” he said.
“We fought back hard and scored a nice try but in the last 10 minutes Leinster showed what a quality side they are and how much they deserved the trophy.”