How easy to describe this Heineken Cup final as a tale of two 10s. Yet there was only one fly-half we were supposed to be watching: Jonathan Sexton, the arch tormentor of England on the final day of the Six Nations' Championship two months earlier and now the man who inserted the stiletto into Northampton ribs.
We were not to assume that Stephen Myler had some shots to fire too. You wonder how long, in the past week, Paul Grayson was in Myler's ear. He does not rank that high in England terms but Grayson will have told him that he deserved his place in a Heineken Cup final, that he could control Northampton's destiny.
Grayson, of course, is the Saints' link with the past, specifically with their coronation as champions of Europe in 2000. Then he was the full-back who kicked the three penalties that beat Munster, the experienced England and Lions man who had won most of the game's honours. For a two-year spell, Grayson was also head coach at Franklin's Gardens, before he stepped back to become backs coach and defence analyst. As such he has had much to do with the development of Myler from a raw rugby league convert into the player who, in the first half, was at the heart of the astonishing Northampton dominance of the favourites.
Myler made breaks and telling long passes and kicked every goal save the conversion of Dylan Hartley's try, which bounced off an upright. He was, if you like, typical of the unconsidered element of this Northampton squad, those who have not won caps rather than those who have – pick the bones out of Calum Clark, Phil Dowson, James Downey and the little wing, Paul Diggin, all of whom made such invaluable contributions in the first half.
Class, though, will out and Leinster had far too much to sustain the anonymity of that first half. It was like watching the most classic of New Zealand teams, raising their game to another level as and when required, with Sexton ripping the heart from Northampton on the pitch and on the scoreboard. When he left the field, to prolonged cheers, he had scored 28 points and been named man of the match.
How revealing, too, that Sexton was among the most urgent voices at half-time. He is far from the most experienced member of this Leinster squad but he clearly has an influence beyond his years. "I spoke about holding on to the ball, Jonny spoke about it too," said Joe Schmidt, the director of rugby. "[The turnaround] had little to do with me. There was a lot of resolve from the players."
Sexton referred to Liverpool's achievement in turning round a 3-0 deficit in the 2005 Champions' League final against Milan. "Stuff like that happens in sport, you talk about things at half-time you don't know much about," he said. "We didn't panic, we basically said we would do everything in the second half we didn't do in the first half."
Leinster, moreover, lived through a similar experience to Northampton when they found cruise control at Thomond Park against Munster in the Magners League and were caught on the line. "I don't think I have had a more satisfying game than this final," Sexton said. "I thought it was gone when they got their third try but momentum is a hard thing to stop and for me, this probably meant more than the 2009 final [against Leicester], because I played in every game."
So it was that Leinster produced the greatest volte face in the tournament's history, in a final that produced more tries than any of the preceding 15. Northampton leave the season with nothing. Is that unfair? Arguably it is the product of the over-crowded English season but the result was what most neutrals expected so no, it is not unfair. The point for the Midlands club is to study how to avoid a similar fate, so the likes of Myler do not end with tears streaming down their faces.Reuse content