Gloom descends upon Newport

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The Independent Online

Newport coach Ian McIntosh described his team's 26-21 Heineken Cup defeat by Leinster as "heartbreaking" after the lights literally went out on the Welsh club's quarter-final chances on Friday night.

Newport were 21-20 ahead when a partial floodlight failure caused an 18-minute second-half stoppage, after which Leinster showed greater character and composure to prevail through two late Nathan Spooner penalty strikes.

Newport played most of the rugby in a thrilling game, but Leinster's fourth successive Pool Six victory leaves them in pole position to reach the quarter-finals.

"It was heartbreaking – we did everything but win the game," said McIntosh. As for the unscheduled delay, he added: "It gave Leinster a breather, and at that stage they had been tiring badly."

Top English referee Chris White was left to deal with a farcical situation that left a crowd of just over 10,000 wondering whether the game would be postponed or allowed to run its course.

White consulted both captains – Leinster prop Reggie Corrigan and Newport lock Simon Raiwalui – but Leinster felt that playing conditions were unsafe, and both of White's touch judges experienced viewing difficulties.

During the stoppage, White spoke to Newport's safety officer, and with a marginal improvement in conditions, play eventually resumed.

Leinster coach Matt Williams said: "In my opinion, it was dangerous, and I am still saying that even though we won the game. We had no choice but to play on. If we had walked off, then we would have forfeited the match.

"No one wanted to see anyone get hurt out there, and I would always err on the side of caution for the players' sake. It would have been tragic had someone broken a leg out there."

Leinster are now firm favourites to reach the quarter-finals after recording a quick-fire double over Newport, while the crestfallen Black and Ambers seemed destined to miss out. They must beat Toulouse and Newcastle in their remaining two matches, boost their try count considerably and then still hope for a miracle.

Ulster coach Alan Solomons was full of praise for his side's efforts in Friday night's other game after they snatched a dramatic 19-16 win over Stade Français.

Stade looked to have sealed the win but intense Ulster pressure as the final minutes ticked by resulted in a series of penalties. The last and most important was taken quickly by scrum-half Neil Doak and the ball passed through the hands of David Humphreys and centre Paddy Wallace on its way to winger Tyrone Howe, who outpaced French scrum-half Fabien Galthié to the corner. Wallace converted.

"It was an absolutely incredible performance by the team," said Solomons. "Their defence was very sharp and that's what you would expect but we played some excellent rugby, especially in the second half.

"The key was our defence. We really put them under pressure and were in their face for the whole game. If you look carefully you can see that they really didn't enjoy it. If you can sustain pressure like that then eventually sides will crack."

Ulster's victory avenged a 40-11 mauling in Paris last weekend, and although Stade remain firm favourites to top the group, victories in their final two matches should ensure the Irishmen a quarter-final berth as one of the best runners-up.

Meanwhile former All Black captain Todd Blackadder said a happy farewell to New Zealand rugby by leading Canterbury to a 30-19 victory over Otago to win the National Provincial Championship. Blackadder is now joining Edinburgh, while Canterbury coach Steve Hansen is becoming Graham Henry's No 2 in Wales.

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