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Jonny Sexton

takes Leinster to heights other teams can only dream of as they beat Saints to win Heineken Cup.

Leinster’s go-to man for over a decade, the fallible but indestructible Brian O’Driscoll, was more than happy to cede his position as the rallying point for a team in distress.


World class: Leinster fly-half Jonny Sexton lifts the Heineken Cup after a double try-scoring contribution on Saturday nigh

Move over BOD, here comes the heir apparent, Jonny Sexton, a fly-half of consummate skills and wonderful grace under pressure, scorer of 28 points and orator extraordinaire, the architect of the most remarkable comeback in European Cup history in its greatest ever final. Only the Heineken can reach such places.

Sexton’s half-time pep talk stirred the loins of his team-mates, invoking the spirit of Liverpool’s miraculous revival against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul. Sexton’s control, vision and devil enabled him to practise as

he preached, his two tries within 13 minutes of the second-half restart turning the match on its head. Sexton in his pomp, Sexton in his element, Sexton the points-gatherer – a one-man show in the history books.

Well might the 25 year-old take the plaudits, acknowledged with modesty and a rueful smile. We might also salute the upsurge in notable others: No 8 Jamie Heaslip became a figure of towering presence, so too the ­clattering Sean O’Brien alongside.

The old grunts in the front-row tweaked their scrummage and ­salvaged what appeared to be a lost cause, prop Mike Ross revealing that their video analyst had shown them clips at half-time, leading him to bind more tightly on his hooker. Simple thing, big consequence.

But study the mere facts and you can miss the essence. Leinster showed heart and soul to join the roll-call of truly great sides that have won two or more titles.

It’s the display of character that makes occasions such as these so special. And if there was one man who displayed guts beyond the call, who summoned inner reserves of spirit and fortitude it was O’Driscoll.

His play was diminished on Saturday as the effects of his recent knee injury lingered, but his aura did not dim. With O’Driscoll in the ranks there is no such thing as a lost cause, no moment when the improbable will not be taken on with relish.

O’Driscoll looked a faded force in the first-half, clunky, half-cock and vulnerable. He was at fault for Ben Foden’s try and was also closed down by the Northampton full-back as he arrowed towards the try-line, even spilling the ball as the tackle came in. O’Driscoll looked a liability.

Yet as Leinster grew so did he. Or was it the other way around? Joe Schmidt, the Leinster head coach, has no doubts as to the enduring influence of O’Driscoll.

“When you say ‘you’re going to need to go to the well here boys’, Brian’s a couple of hundred feet down already, digging deep,” said Schmidt.

“He can find something when the going gets tough. I did have concerns [about his fitness] but he did add to what we did. There is always calmness about him and around him.”

For O’Driscoll, not playing was never an option. It was a gamble but he was never going to let this one pass by.

“I wasn’t at 100 per cent and it wasn’t my finest performance but that’s neither here nor there when you have a medal round your neck,” said O’Driscoll.

“I definitely felt that Northampton were sitting back, going into their shell. I knew we could score points, although maybe not 27 unanswered points.”

There is always a contrast between the mood of the victors and that of the losers.

Late on Saturday evening, as the tumult in the Cardiff streets surrounding the Millennium Stadium showed no sign of easing, the slow trudge of Northampton feet towards their team bus could be heard. They didn’t hide, they didn’t duck what had happened but they were shattered.

The empty stare in their eyes told its own tale. Not only had they led by 16 points at half-time, they had been dominant in all phases, in all areas. Their scrum had demolished

Leinster’s, shoving them on to their backsides even when reduced to seven men with Brian Mujati in the sin-bin, and their back-line had made merry, fly-half Stephen Myler ruling supreme.

Tries from Phil Dowson, Foden and Dylan Hartley were the natural consequence.

And then it all went horribly wrong. “The worst 15 minutes of my professional career,” in the words of Foden. “I wanted someone to pinch me, or to be back in the changing room.”

Not possible. Sexton cruised through for two tries, Dowson was sin-binned, Sexton knocked over the goals (scoring 20 points in 20 minutes), Nathan Hines touched down for another try in the 65th minute and it was all over.

“This is very much up there in my all-time memories,” said O’Driscoll. “When you’re all finished and looking back in 15 years’ time or so, then, yes, this was a good day.” It was that.

Out of nowhere: five memorable comebacks

Bath 19 Brive 18
(1998 Heineken Cup final Bordeaux)
Underdogs Bath trail the defending champions15-6 at half-time but a try by and two penalties from Jon Callard stun the French team.

France 43 New Zealand 31
(1999 World Cup semi-final, Twickenham)
New Zealand, huge tournament favourites, lead 24-10 after 44 minutes. But France score 26 points in 13 stunning minutes, inspired by Christophe Lamaison’s kicking and tries from Christophe Dominici, Richard Dourthe and Philippe Bernat-Salles.

Stade Français 30 Leicester 34
(2001 Heineken Cup final, Paris)
Leicester trail 15-9 at half-time and continue to be behind up until the very last minute, when Leon Lloyd scores his second try of the game.

Wales 31 Scotland 24
(2010 Six Nations, Cardiff)
Shane Williams’s try sees Wales overturn a 24-14 deficit in the final six minutes. A Leigh Halfpenny try and a Stephen Jones penalty level the scores before Williams strikes.

South Africa 28 Lions 25
(2009, second Test, Pretoria)
The Lions hold an 11-point lead going into the final quarter, but tries by Bryan Habana and Jacque Fourie and a 53-metre penalty by Morne Steyn force a Springbok win.

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