It was for occasions such as this that Brian O'Driscoll stayed loyal when he might have made big-money transfers in the past, and the brilliant Dubliner's patience paid off as Leinster landed their first Heineken Cup, with a little Australian assistance from the barnstorming flanker Rocky Elsom and coaches Michael Cheika and Alan Gaffney. Leicester, not quite tuckered but certainly knackered after a punishing run-in, were ultimately bested by Johnny Sexton's super-cool penalty 10 minutes from the end. "It feels great, I've played for this team for 10 years and it was worth the wait," said O'Driscoll, who added the club game's top prize to his Grand Slam as Ireland captain.
Leicester had hoped to join Toulouse as three-time European champions. The difference was that although this year, as in their Heineken-winning seasons of 2001 and 2002, coincided with them taking the English Premiership title, the previous two were before the league was decided by play-offs. The Tigers' Premiership final defeat of London Irish at Twickenham eight days ago was the third of four successive knockout matches which exacted a toll here where margins were so tiny.
"The boys couldn't have given any more," said Richard Cockerill, Leicester's head coach. "Maybe our luck ran out or maybe we didn't earn the breaks."
Leinster had reached a debut final in their 14th Heineken Cup season by pulverising Munster, the holders, in the semi-finals, but they had to overcome even greater muscle here. Leicester had the Samoan wing Alex Tuilagi back from four weeks' suspension. On the flipside, Leinster's arch locksmiths, O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy, kept loading testing combinations into a Leicester vault door manned by Ayoola Erinle, Dan Hipkiss and Sam Vesty.
During a hit-and-miss first half an hour or so, it was 3-3 when O'Driscoll dropped a goal from comfortable range and Julien Dupuy levelled with a penalty. Then Sexton – the 23-year-old understudy fly-half in for the crocked Puma Felipe Contepomi – dropped a goal from the halfway line. Leinster's support let rip a lusty chorus of "Come on you boys in blue", and cranked it up again when Sexton's penalty six minutes later made it 9-3.
Vesty, whose curly hair had been the motif of a run of 12 wins in 13 matches, while Toby Flood of England was in and out of the side and latterly injured, strove not to be outshone. He was tackled without the ball by Stan Wright and while the Leinster tighthead went to the sin-bin, Dupuy's penalty halved Leinster's lead. Leicester shrugged off the loss to a leg injury of Jordan Crane, their hero of recent weeks, by scoring the first try. From a ruck in the Leinster 22, against 14 men, Vesty executed a show-and-go and Ben Woods, his openside, battered past two men to the line. Dupuy converted: 13-9 to Leicester.
Dupuy kicked a third penalty, two minutes into the second half, before Wright returned. Elsom, whose fans in the Murrayfield stands wore boxing gloves, had a rattling run; then O'Driscoll punted and D'Arcy chased and Leicester had another casualty when Geordan Murphy, their captain and a Leinsterman born and bred, succumbed to a hip flexor problem. With 48 minutes gone it was all-square. Much as Woods did before him, Jamie Heaslip clattered over after a half-break by O'Driscoll. Sexton converted.
Sexton missed from 40-odd metres after 52 minutes but his big moment was yet to come. Gradually Heaslip, Elsom and Shane Jennings, the ex-Tiger, established domination at the tackle area. Leo Cullen, the Leinster skipper and another formerly of the Welford Road parish, and Malcolm O'Kelly, the old warhorse who played in the province's first European tie in November 1995, secured their line-out under great pressure, and attacked Leicester's successfully in return. Huge groans when O'Driscoll went down holding his right shoulder turned to cheers when he continued, though his body language suggested lingering hurt. Imagine his mental turmoil, as one of Leinster's quartet of Lions tourists preparing for this evening's [Sunday's] flight down to South Africa.
But 'BOD' and the Leinster bands played on. "Brian is the talisman of our team and I presume the Lions will look to him as well," Cullen said. "He has such a phenomenal presence and he is getting his just rewards for the standards he has set over a long period." A tiring Leicester dabbled illegally on the floor, Sexton steered over the decisive penalty from 35 metres, and the cup was won. "To be fair the Irish do have a slight advantage," said Cullen. He meant the question of scheduling, but it has been true too of the season's big trophies, for both club and country.
MAN FOR MAN: LEICESTER
Geordan Murphy 6/10
Solid enough in defence, as usual, but as is increasingly usual he wasn't given much chance in attack. Maybe the frustration contributed to the odd wobble. Off, injured, after 46 minutes.
Scott Hamilton 6/10
Set out to follow Rod 'Tugboat' Kafer in winning the Super 12 and the Heineken Cup and had to try it from full-back after Murphy left the field. Will have to try it again next year.
Ayoola Erinle 6/10
Handy to have someone as big as a blindside in the centre – painful for the oppo, too. Ask O'Driscoll, who got absolutely munched in the first half. Off to Biarritz now but this was a decent enough display to take on his way.
Dan Hipkiss 7/10
Seems to have as much power in his legs as Erinle has in his shoulders, which makes for a rather narrow kind of variety in the Leicester centres. Still, those legs can motor when they have to, viz: a long first-half break and kick that nearly brought a try. Nearly.
Alesana Tuilagi 6/10
Faced, for once, with an opposite number, Horgan, who's almost as big as he is, he seemed a little unnerved and even, honestly, a little underpowered. Fitzgerald even knocked him over. Oh, the shame. Stirred into life in the second half.
Sam Vesty 6/10
Well-shackled by Jennings but when the Leinster No7 was off the field, thanks to Wright's trip to the sin-bin, he made the offload that made the first try. Good stuff. After that there was just a lot of stuff, though.
Julien Dupuy 6/10
Missed his first kick, from distance; slotted his second. And his third. And his fourth. Apart from that, he was slightly off-colour in open play.
Marcos Ayerza 6/10
Leinster stood up to the Tigers scrum, pretty much, for the first 50 minutes. Then Ayerza was joined by Julian White and the Leinster scrum... started to go backwards and concede penalties. Reasonable.
George Chuter 6/10
Missed one very important line-out (as well as some slightly less important ones) in the first half and his flankers bailed him out with tackles to stop D'Arcy scoring. In general the Tigers line-out wasn't at its best and in general the hooker has to carry the can for that. Unfair, yes, but there you are.
Martin Castrogiovanni 6/10
Gave Wright a tap on the bonce to say 'goodbye' when the other tighthead went to the bin. Nice of him. Off for the last half-hour, and the scrum started going forward.
Ben Kay 6/10
Line-outs from the first half will make for a bit of a video nasty, although he sorted something out that helped sort his team out too, for a while. Took on the captaincy when Murphy went off.
Tom Croft 7/10
Seriously speedy for a lock. We knew that, but it didn't make his chase after Hipkiss's break any less impressive. Went back into the back row once Deacon was on for Crane and was every bit as hard-working, showing why the Lions have, at the second time of asking, got it right by taking him to South Africa.
Craig Newby 7/10
A theory – any decent club side has a two- or three-cap All Black flanker somewhere in its ranks. Such quiet, undemonstrative chaps tend to be very good in a quiet, undemonstrative and apparently indestructible kind of way. Like this one.
Ben Woods 7/10
Excellent defence, helping to hold D'Arcy back from the line – excellent power for his try, the first of the match, just before half-time. An unsung hero, perhaps unlucky to be taken off for the last quarter.
Jordan Crane 5/10
Didn't last out the first half – seemed to be a whack on the hip that did it.
Louis Deacon On for Crane and, head down, into the second row. In the thick of it.
Matt Smith On for Murphy for the last half an hour and some; couldn't make much of an impact.
Julian White On for Castrogiovanni for the final half-hour. Not the usual, fast kind of impact sub... but started to get the Leinster pack going backwards at a rate of knots.
Benjamin Kayser On for Chuter for 25 minutes.
Lewis Moody On for Woods for the last quarter... was it his hand in the ruck that conceded the deadly penalty?
Harry Ellis On for Dupuy at the death, too late to turn it around.
MAN FOR MAN: LEINSTER
Isa Nacewa 6/10
Kept a Lion, Rob Kearney, on the bench, and he's not even a full-back. Did that contribute to his being bounced off by Woods for the try? Maybe. Slick enough in what passed for attack.
Shane Horgan 6/10
Chased the first kick-off and helped win a turnover, and then made life difficult for Tuilagi. Saw a lot of Croft, too, as the Tigers lock lurked on his wing, but generally dealt with him very well.
Brian O'Driscoll 7/10
Dropped the opening goal and dabbed and darted about. Worth saying well done to Erinle, for keeping him relatively quiet, and he hurt his shoulder in the second half and moved out to the wing. However, the Lion battled on and made the run that won the penalty that won the cup. He will keep on doing things like that.
Gordon D'Arcy 6/10
Held short – just short – of an opening try, having got on to Sexton's shoulder as any centre should. Had his hands full with Hipkiss, but didn't ever lose his grip.
Luke Fitzgerald 6/10
Decent chase and tackle set up the first points... then ballsed up a high ball himself. Settled after that and generally looked like the Lion he can now get on with being.
Johnny Sexton 7/10
Decent, composed start – but his enormous drop goal for 6-3 was something else. Kicked on from there to produce a very strong performance, holding his nerve and keeping his kicking game together. Starting to look like the next Ireland No 10 that a lot of people say he is.
Chris Whitaker 6/10
This former Waratah (it's a flower) now plays for a team whose badge is a harp. Must long to be a Shark or a Giant or something. Had a pretty big game, all in all, though his pass from outside the 22 led to the Leicester penalty which made it 16-9 and could have proved fatal. Bit harsh to be critical of that, but them's the rules.
Cian Healy 6/10
Mobile little tub of a prop. No mug at the scrum, but he was a little stupid to give away the penalty that made it 16-9 to Leicester. Then very canny to win a penalty from Newby. A mixed bag, then.
Bernard Jackman 6/10
A poor man's Keith Wood? A Slightly Peeved Maris Piper, as opposed to the full Raging Potato? A bit unfair, but his bald bonce ricocheted about without ever seeming likely to break the Tigers' line.
Stan Wright 6/10
Tackle off the ball earned a yellow card, but also saved a try. Was it worth it? Well, his side lost a flanker because of it, and thus lost a try, and lost the 10-minute spell of his absence 10-0. So you'd think not. Then again, his side won.
Leo Cullen 7/10
A natural captain, a bit like Martin Johnson in that he doesn't look or play like a superhero but he always, always does his bit. Pulled down one Tigers maul on his own – thank God the demise of certain ELVs will mean he can't do that next season.
Malcolm O'Kelly 7/10
Charged down Dupuy early on. Always nice for a lumbering lock to get one of those, just like making a bit of a mess of the other lot's line-out always means a decent mark.
Rocky Elsom 8/10
Early knock-on made for a... wait for it... rocky start. Ho-ho. Back to normal service soon after, rocking the Tigers back on their heels. Boshed Tuilagi. No, really. Also surprisingly mobile for a man his size and has skills and a few frills. Very, very influential, all in all.
Shane Jennings 7/10
Gave away two penalties in two minutes at the start – classic openside behaviour. But, less sarcastically, driving Heaslip over for 16-16 was also classic stuff. Influence was obvious when he was off; in the later stages it showed on the field too.
Jamie Heaslip 7/10
Had his work cut out when he lost Jennings in the first half. Good power to score Leinster's try, though, and he worked like a fiend in the final minutes to keep Leicester in check.
Ronan McCormack Prop came on for Jennings to cover for Wright's absence and then came back to face White for a bit. Must have been fun for him.
John Fogarty On for Jackman with 25 to go... first throw, in deep defence, was very, very wobbly. Got away with it.
Rob Kearney Lion. On for Fitzgerald, late.
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