Tense Bilbao final goes Leinster’s way
Spain welcomed a top tier European final for the first time on Saturday, but it was a familiar team going up to reclaim the trophy they last won six years ago at the final whistle. For the last nine months Leinster have spearheaded an Irish assault on European rugby, dominance of which was assured with a tense 15-12 win over Racing.
For large swathes the showpiece event was a brutal, if not entirely pretty, encounter. Racing were the better side in the first half, but back and forth penalties between the excellent Teddy Iribaren and Johnny Sexton meant the sides went in level at the break. Afterwards, Leinster found slightly more flow to their game, but Racing were equal to anything the Irish side could throw at them. The French side kept edging in front before being pulled back. That was until the last few minutes, when Teddy Thomas needlessly ran a ball into touch on his own twenty-two, gifting Leinster field position from which they eked a penalty opportunity. Isa Nacewa converted the chance and Leinster seemed set. However, the Parisians had one last effort, winning the ball back and easing their way into drop goal territory. Remi Tales had the chance to level the scores and take it to extra time. He pulled it and the roar from the travelling fans told you all you needed to know.
They may not have been the better team in the final, but Leinster are deservedly back and sitting on top of Europe once again.
Gloucester fall to Blues at the death
English misery in Europe this season was exacerbated in Bilbao on Friday evening. As the last remaining Premiership team, hopes were high that Gloucester could salvage some pride, but a second half comeback from Cardiff put those ideas to bed. It started so well for the Cherry and Whites when Henry Trinder and Mark Atkinson grabbed a converted score each and a couple of penalties from Billy Twelvetrees gave them a 20-6 lead at the interval. However, Blues rallied in dramatic fashion in the second half to take home a rare Welsh European crown. They wrestled the lead 23-20 before the English side retook it and led 30-23 with minutes to go. Blues scored a try and had a conversion to level. It was missed. It seemed to be over, but with the clock dying, Gareth Anscombe had the nerve to slot a winning penalty, causing a flood of celebrations as the bench raced onto the pitch.
What happened elsewhere?
Coming back from a ten point half-time deficit, Crusaders survived a scare against the Waratahs, coming through 31-29. Sunwolves smashed the Reds 63-28, whilst there were also wins for Highlanders, Rebels, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Bulls.
Hero of the week
He wasn’t my man of the match in the final (that award would have gone to Teddy Iribaren), but Isa Nacewa gets it this week for guiding his team to yet another title. For him to kick the winning points felt somewhat appropriate.
Villain of the week
Israel Folau still seems not to have learnt his lesson. He has been causing the ARU nothing but hassle with his vocalisation of bigoted views in recent times. He has every right to believe what he wants, but as an employee of Australian Rugby, he must recognise his professional duties as well. Last chance saloon time.
Try of the week
It’s going to Mark Atkinson this week for being on the end of a wonderfully flowing team move, which was full of great support lines and began well inside Gloucester’s own half. Watch it here.
Is this the start of another Leinster dynasty?
Who were your players of the tournament?
Where were the finals won and lost?
Thoughts on the Israel Folau saga?
by Joe Large