With the Heienken Cup stage set for the final in Edinburgh. we look back at an incredible weekend of rugby that saw Leinster and Leicester progress.
At Croke Park on Saturday, Leinster produced a miracle performance to achieve the impossible and defeat title favourites Munster by 25 – 6.
The game was won at the breakdown, where Leinster’s back row of Rocky Elsom, and Jamie Heaslip forced several turnovers, which is usually a rare feat against the European giants Munster. Their own back row of Alan Quinlan, David Wallace and Denis Leamy usually dominate this area of the game, and have been responsible for much of Munster’s success, but on Saturday it was Leinster that came out on top.
The side showed similar defensive resolve to that which we saw against Harlequins last month, and kept their line intact whilst they scored three tries of their own through Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Brian O’Driscoll.
Paul O’Connell was magnificent in the lineout for Munster, so there is little to read into the ‘battle of potential Lions captains’, but there may well be some grim news for Ian McGeechan.
Quinlan was caught on camera apparently gouging Leinster’s captain Leo Cullen – he may be cited, and if so, would probably receive a ban ruling him out of the tour to South Africa. We’ll keep you posted if this situation develops.
Leinster were joined in the final by Leicester after an unbelievable penalty shootout at the end of their game with Cardiff Blues.
Having led 26 – 12 with less than ten minutes remaining, Cardiff scored two quick tries through Jamie Roberts and Tom James with unlikely conversions by Ben Blair, and the scores were levelled at 26 – 26. Extra time could not separate the sides, and the penalty shootout was tantalising and horrific at the same time.
With no goalkeeper as there is in football, it was always going to end in misery for at least one player. The regular kickers stepped up and slotted it from in front of the posts without any trouble, so it was left to the part-time kickers such as Craig Newby, Martin Williams and Jordan Crane to seal the fate of their team.
Unfortunately for Cardiff hero Williams, he shanked his kick to the left and allowed Crane to steal the glory and ensure Leicester’s Heineken Cup survival. Richard Cockerill was sheepish afterwards about the tellings-off at every training session when he sees forwards practising their place kicking.
There is likely to be some debate over whether the penalty shootout in rugby is the fairest way to decide a game after Extra Time, but it’s difficult to think of an alternative. A toss of the coin would probably be more humane by not creating a villain, but it certainly wouldn’t have the drama that we saw yesterday.
Elsewhere, in the European Challenge Cup, Bourgoin beat Worcester and Northampton defeated Saracens to reach the final.
Tickets for both the Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup finals are available on viagogo at very good prices.