Little Matter Of Lions Tour Series Win On O’Driscoll’s Wishlist
Lions Tour News – Little Matter Of Lions Tour Series Win On O’Driscoll’s Wishlist. It has been a victorious spring for Irish teams that seemingly could not win the ultimate prizesAfter a decade of near misses, the national side finally won the Six Nations and won it in style, sweeping all of its games for a Grand Slam, the first since 1948.
On Saturday, Leinster, the team based in Dublin, at last won the European Cup, beating Leicester, 19-16, in a tense final in Edinburgh.
Other Irish teams had won the competition before: Ulster in 1999, Munster in 2006 and 2008. But Leinster had been a serial semi final loser until they hammered Munster, the reigning champions this year.
Leicester, in contrast, were appearing in their fifth European Cup final — although only two had ended in triumph.
The only two players in the Leinster team with any experience of a European final had earned it in Leicester shirts. In the 2007 final, Shane Jennings started and Leo Cullen, now the Leinster captain, played 30 minutes as a replacement. But Leicester were undone by London Wasps, and after the defeat the two men returned to their native soil.
The fact that Leicester were in Edinburgh at all after a generally mediocre season suggested to be proof that they knew how to win.
In the 2nd semi final, they beat Cardiff in a prolonged penalty shootout. The club had spent much of their English league season trailing the leaders, but ended it by defeating London Irish in the playoff final a week earlier. This was a team that operated well under pressure.
The early pressure on Saturday came from Leinster. Brian O’Driscoll, the Ireland captain, put Leinster ahead with a drop goal. Julien Dupuy leveled with a penalty for Leicester.
Johnny Sexton, a 23-year-old who had come on after 20 minutes in the semifinal after the veteran Argentine fly half Felipe Contepomi suffered a season-ending injury, increased the lead with a prodigious drop goal from halfway. He then added a penalty. The youngster seemed to be playing without fear.
But Leinster had to build their lead in three-point increments because they could not turn steady pressure into touchdowns against a swarming Leicester defense. D’Arcy was stopped inches from the line after Sexton had made the initial break.
The first time that Leicester attacked, Leinster wobbled. After 33 minutes, with the line in danger, Stan Wright, a prop forward from the Cook Islands, tackled the Leicester fly half Sam Vesty even though he did not have the ball at the time. Wright was sent off for 10 minutes.
While he was off, Leicester scored 13 points. Dupuy booted a penalty. Ben Woods crashed through the depleted defense for a try. Dupuy kicked the conversion and added a penalty early in the second half.
At full strength, Leinster re-established their domination. Leinster have often been derided as too dainty, too reliant on their talented Ireland backs — O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Horgan — and too soft in the forwards. On Saturday, Wright and the other prop, Cian Healey, and the Australian flanker Rocky Elsom hammered Leicester backwards.
Elsom was named man of the match. “I would say that he is the best player I have ever played with, and I have played with many good players,” O’Driscoll said at the post match news conference.
Sexton missed a long-range penalty, but Leinster at last broke through with a try by star forward Jamie Heaslip who powered his way over the line. Sexton kicked the conversion to level the scores.
The final was played the day before the British and Irish Lions flew to South Africa to begin their tour. O’Driscoll was captain on their last tour, to New Zealand in 2005, but was injured in the opening seconds of the first test. He will almost certainly start the Test Matches in South Africa.
But on the day when the Lions was announced they were calling up James Hook to replace his fellow Welshman, Leigh Halfpenny, who was hurt in training last week, O’Driscoll gave the Lions’ management a brief scare.
Just after the hour, O’Driscoll got up from a heavy collision clutching his shoulder. He went to play on the wing, his arm hanging at his side. Five minutes later, he suddenly jinked past three defenders on the left wing, forcing a penalty from the Leicester defense.
With the pressure on, Sexton took the kick. He did not strike it well, but the ball hooked just inside the far post and flopped over the bar. Leinster led. As he turned to run back, Sexton pulled a face that suggested both relief and disbelief.
Leinster could not quite pen Leicester back for the last 10 minutes, but they avoided making any mistakes in their own half. This time, Leicester could not find a way to win.
Experience and history are important, but sometimes winning is simply a question of playing better than your opponent.
At the end, a joyful O’Driscoll was interviewed on the field and happily milked the applause from Leinster’s adoring fans.
“I’ve played for this team for 10 years,” he said. “I’ve loved every minute playing for them. I love Leinster.”
O’Driscoll was captain of the Ireland team that broke through in the Six Nations this year. It has been a pretty good season for him.
“Just one competition to go; a little Lions series will cap it off nicely,” he said.