Heineken Cup Final Review
- Leinster v Northampton
- Millennium Stadium
- 21st May 2011
- Attendance: 72,456
At half time in the Heineken Cup in Cardiff last Saturday Leinster looked to be in big trouble. They were trailing Northampton by 6-22 in the northern hemisphere’s biggest club rugby match. The Dublin team were getting badly beaten up in the pack, particularly evident in the number of penalties they conceded from scrums. Leinster looked nervous and shaken while Northampton looked in complete control. Looks can be very deceiving. The Heineken Cup half time whistle saw the end of Northampton’s physical dominance over Leinster. The English team did not score any points in the second half. This may all have been part of Leinster coach, Joe Schmidt’s tactical plan.
Schmidt would have known that Northampton would start the match with all guns blazing. He knew that they would start the match at a frantic pace and try to establish early dominance. Northampton have a huge and powerful pack who look to build a solid platform from their set pieces for their backs to launch attacks. Leinster would not have wished to be 16 points adrift of their opposition at half time but they were keeping cool and believed in the coach’s tactics.
Leinster worked hard to ensure Northampton’s pack could not build a platform for their backs from lineouts. Northampton only had 2 lineouts in the first half. When Leinster kicked the ball to clear their lines, the ball was kept in play. They did not want to give Northampton a lineout from which the English team could build an attack. Instead Leinster wanted to keep the ball in play and move the Northampton pack around the pitch tiring out their big forwards. This was a clever tactic, designated by Schmidt and executed by Sexton and teammates. The Leinster coaching staff would have watched countless Northampton games in the build up to this match and would have seen how effective and dangerous a weapon their lineout has been. Coach Schmidt’s tactics effectively negated Northampton’s back line the ability to run their array of attacking plays from their lineouts while also making sure their forwards did a lot of running.
The scrums were a damage limitation exercise for the first half of the game. The Leinster pack knew that their opposition were physically bigger and collectively stronger than them up front. The scrum was never going to be easy going for the Leinster front row. Tonga’uiha, Hartley and Mujati are a fierce front row. Schmidt would have told his forwards to absorb the pressure from the Northampton pack. To soak it up to the best of their ability. It would have been almost impossible for Northampton to sustain the constant pressure on the Leinster scrum. Leinster gave Northampton all 22 points through scrums. Their 3 tries came from scrums and outhalf, Myler kicked a penalty awarded to his team from a scrum.
Leinster did not want to take on the Northampton pack in the first 40 minutes. They moved each one of their 4 lineouts immediately out their back line. This forced the big Northampton pack to cover a lot more ground and resulted in fatigue setting in at half time. No doubt Leinster were a fitter team than Northampton and relied heavily upon this. Fitness, patience and ability to stay calm under pressure won Leinster their second Heineken Cup. Johnny Sexton’s half time talk which referenced Liverpool’s famous Champions League Final comeback against A.C. Milan in 2005, was undoubtedly inspirational. Having played many times with Johnny, I can say he has always been a leader on the pitch.
Heineken Cup Timeline with Key Points:
- Heineken Cup 6:00mins TRY – Northampton pack dominate the Leinster forwards in a scrum close to the Northampton try line. Following a quick ruck, Phil Dowson touches down for the Saints. Northampton’s No.8, Roger Wilson set up this try. Wilson, cleared the ruck very quickly to allow Dowson to score. Not only did Wilson clear Leinster’s Shane Horgan out of the ruck but he also held onto him to make sure he couldn’t get up to make a tackle on Dowson. The referee must not have seen Horgan’s enthusiastic use of the boot to try to free himself of Wilson’s grasp! Conversion kicked. Leinster 0 – 7 Northampton.
- Heineken Cup 16:00mins Leinster lineout – Leo Cullen calls Leinster’s lineouts and ensured that the calls he used involved movement. Leinster confused the Northampton lineout defense by switching the positions of some of their forwards before the balls is thrown in. A moments hesitation in the Northampton defense is all Leinster needed to guarantee possession of the ball from their lineouts. This lineout was over thrown but Leinster retain possession and kicked the ball away.
- Heineken Cup 17:00mins Leinster lineout – On their own 22m line. Leinster call a 5 man lineout with movement. The ball is thrown to the back pod and caught cleanly. The ensuing ruck lead to a knock on.
- Heineken Cup 19:00mins Penalty – Northampton scrum forces the Leinster front row to concede a penalty. Myler kicks. 3 points. 0-10.
- Heineken Cup 22:28mins Leinster lineout – On the half way line. Leinster call another 5 man lineout with movement. The ball is thrown to the back pod and immediately given off the top to the scrum half. The play very nearly ended in a try for Brian O’Driscoll but for a knock on right on the Northampton 5m line.
- Heineken Cup 24:00mins Penalty – Northampton win another penalty at the scrum.
- Heineken Cup 25:30mins Penalty – Leinster win a penalty following Mujati’s foul on Cian Healy. Mujati is yellow carded and sent to the sin bin. Sexton kicks the 3 points. Leinster 3 – Northampton 7.
- Heineken Cup 26:30mins Leinster lineout – On the Northampton 10m line. Cullen demonstrates great awareness here. Although Leinster’s preference is calling shortened lineouts against the Saints, Cullen calls a full man lineout. He knows that Northampton have a prop in the sin bin and by calling a full 7 man lineout, the Saints are short a player in their defense. Leinster win the ball at the tail of the lineout and pass the ball off the top to the scrum half. The result is a knock on and scrum to Northampton.
- Heineken Cup 27:15mins Northampton’s substitute prop, Mercey replaces flanker, Clarke due to the sin binning of Mujati. The Saints continue their dominance over Leinster in the scrum and win another penalty with only 7 forwards.
- Heineken Cup 28:40mins Northampton lineout – Inside Leinster’s 22m line. Saints call a 5 man lineout and win possession. Leinster chose not to compete with Northampton’s lineouts because they were aware of the potential dangers of allowing the Saints to set up mauls and providing attacking options for their backs. Instead of competing for the ball during Northampton’s lineouts, the Leinster pack stayed on the ground ready to instantly pull down any Northampton maul. The result is a knock on within 5m of the Leinster try line
- Heineken Cup 29:55mins TRY – Leinster scrum. Inside their own 22m line. Northampton continue their domination of Leinster in the scrums even with 7 players. The Saints win the scrum against the head. Following a few quick rucks, Ben Foden scores a try. Psychologically for Leinster this was a very rough period. Their 8 members of the pack were getting taken apart by the 7 remaining members of Northampton’s pack. Leinster had to continue to believe in their tactics and in their fitness. The Saints were down a man which meant the other 7 forwards had to increase their work rate for the duration of the sin binning. This possibly contributed to the apparent fatigue that hit the Northampton players. This is an important point in the analysis of the game. Conversion kicked. 3 – 17.
- Heineken Cup 35:00mins Penalty to Leinster – Sexton kicks the 3 points. 6 – 17.
- Heineken Cup 37:00mins TRY – Northampton’s pack is back to full compliment following Mujati’s yellow card. The Saints are awarded another penalty from a scrum on Leinster’s 22m line but advantage is played. Northampton’s pack pours into 5 rucks before hooker, Dylan Hartley scores in right corner. Conversion missed. Leinster 6 – Northampton 22.
- HEINEKEN CUP HALF TIME.
- Heineken Cup 42:49mins TRY – Leinster lineout – at Northampton 10m line. Hooker, Strauss continues to throw well and picks out the back pod in Leinster’s 6 man lineout. The ball is passed off the top to scrum half Reddan. Leinster want to move the Saints pack around the pitch and continue to keep the high tempo of the game. Following a number of phases, Johnny Sexton receives the ball on the blind side of a ruck and with tiring prop Tonga’uiha marking him, Sexton easily glided over for his first try of the game. Leinster’s efficient and effective lineout play resulted in a well worked try. 13 – 22.
- Heineken Cup 48:10mins Leinster lineout – On Northampton’s 22m line. Cullen employs movement in the lineout and the ball is thrown to the back pod. Leinster hooker Strauss got away with a crooked throw. After 11 phases of play, demonstrating fantastic ball retention, Gordon D’arcy looks to have scored another try for Leinster from a lineout. However, after consulting the video match official, the referee ruled that D’arcy was held up.
- Heineken Cup 52:20mins TRY – Leinster scrum awarded after D’arcy was ruled to be held up. This is a massive turning point in the game. The Northampton pack no longer have the energy to dominate their Irish counterparts. Leo Cullen and his fellow teammates sense this and apply pressure on the Saints pack. From the impressive Leinster scrum, Sexton bundles his way over for his second try. He converts his own try. Leinster 20 – Northampton 22.
- Heineken Cup 56:20mins Penalty – Leinster win a penalty from a scrum. The physical and mental turnaround is complete. The once dominant Saints pack concede a penalty from a Leinster scrum. Fatigue has set in for the Northampton pack and they are struggling to compete with the tempo of Leinster’s game. Psychologically , Northampton are really struggling. They have not been able to match Leinster at all in the second half. Their scrum is creaking badly and they have just lost their 16 point lead. Sexton penalty kick. Leinster 23 – 22 Northampton.
- Heineken Cup 57:30mins Lineout – Northampton call a full lineout inside their own 10m line. The Saints are desperately trying to re assert their dominance over Leinster by calling a full man lineout, throwing to the front jumper and setting up a maul. Leinster do not compete in the air for the ball but instead stay on the ground and pull the maul down immediately. Great Leinster defense. Northampton are running out of ideas.
- Heineken Cup 59:20mins Penalty – Saints flanker Phil Dowson enters the ruck from the side, gives away a penalty and is yellow carded. Northampton down to 14 men again for the next 10 mins. Sexton kick the penalty. 3 points. 26 – 22.
- Heineken Cup 63:08mins TRY – Leinster have a scrum on the half way line. It is now the Dublin team putting pressure on the Saints in the scrums. Leinster are awarded a penalty but advantage is played. Following quick rucking and some good decision making, Scotland international, Nathan Hines scores a try for Leinster. Sexton converts. Leinster 33 – 22 Northampton.
- Heineken Cup 66:15mins Substitution – Northampton’s two props have run out of steam and are substituted. They gave it everything. (17) Waller on for (1) Tonga’uhia and (18) Mercey on for (3) Mujati.
- Heineken Cup 70:10mins Lineout – Northampton call a full lineout on the half way line. The ball is caught at the front and is passed off the top and out to the back. Leinster again do not compete in the lineout.
- Heineken Cup 71:30mins Lineout – Captain, Leo Cullen displays great leadership and awareness here. Leinster know that they have become the dominant pack now. They want to wind down the clock and close the game out. Cullen calls a full lineout and the ball is thrown to the front. The Leinster pack set up a maul and use up valuable minutes.
- Heineken Cup 76:00mins Lineout – The Saints call a full man lineout on their own 10m line. Replacement hooker Sharman loses focuses and throws a crooked throw, missing his intended target and straight into the arms of Shane Jennings. As a hooker, it is vital that you can maintain concentration and focus at these crucial times.
- Heineken Cup 80:00mins GAME OVER – Leinster are crowned the Heineken Cup Champions 2011.
Gavin Hickie, USA Rugby U20s Forwards Coach, is a former Ireland, Leinster and Leicester rugby player now based in California and taking rugby to the USA. He writes for RugbyMag.com and other publications when not coaching for Belmont Shore and blogging on lineoutcoach.com #busy