Heaslip leads the charge as Leinster overwhelm outclassed Biarritz
Joe Schmidt’s side unleash all their considerable firepower to book a home final
Leinster 44 Biarritz 16: All Leinster’s Lions contenders enhanced their credentials here. From the authority of Rob Kearney to potential bolters like Richardt Strauss and Ian Madigan but Jamie Heaslip in particular impressed.
The Ireland captain has not showcased such devastating open field running since his brilliance during the 2009 European, Six Nations and Lions campaigns.
The problem ever since has been his regular openside wing forward plays more like a number eight than he does.
“All week there’s been an edge to Jamie,” said Joe Schmidt. “When we didn’t have Seán O’Brien the plays are set up for him to carry a bit more.”
After one of Heaslip’s two tries, the RDS big screen flicked to three Lions coaches – Neil Jenkins, Graham Rowntree and Rob Howley – sitting attentively in the stand. It proved a hugely beneficial journey for them.
There were plenty of special moments on Saturday but one will linger in the memory. As the jaded 34-year-old centre Brian O’Driscoll was gasping for air having claimed Leinster’s fifth try, he gave a subtle salute to the blue ultras on the terrace who immediately gushed in unison: “One More Year.”
The chant quickly reverberated around the 18,500 full house. Just one more year, Brian. That’s all they ask of you.
A Leinster team playing with an uber-confidant strut glided into a third European final in as many years.
Injury to Gordon D’Arcy prompted the Madigan experiment at inside centre and Schmidt said afterwards this may be the ideal place to accommodate the Blackrock talent in a green jersey.
But it was the men either side of him who shone brightest as Biarritz’s bruising forwards (citings may follow from Wales’ Ray Wilton after Kevin McLaughlin and Heaslip left the field bloodied) couldn’t handle the intensity and pace of the Leinster backline.
Devin Toner is another forcing the public to reassess his capabilities in recent weeks but it was Heaslip’s day, slaloming around the last defender like he did against France in the Grand Slam season for his second try on the stroke of half-time. Sexton’s conversion made it 24-9 and that was that.
They started perfectly. With just four minutes gone, Toner sneaked to the back of the lineout tipping Richardt Strauss’ long throw into Isa Nacewa’s welcoming arms. The Aucklander tore through the Basque defence, off-loading to Heaslip, who had slipped unnoticed up the left wing.
It was a great try but they switched off for the next 10 minutes or so, Sexton even doffing a penalty well wide while Taku N’Gwenya did well to get his body underneath the Paris-bound outhalf to prevent a certain try.
That chance came off a sizzling O’Driscoll break in midfield. It should have been 17-0, instead it was 7-6, as the flawless Dimitri Yachvili punished any indiscretion. Two more penalties were exchanged by Sexton and a beautiful strike by Yachvili to make it 10-9.
Then came the avalanche.
O’Driscoll and Kearney combined to send Sexton over and before Biarritz could regain equilibrium, Heaslip chinned them. It was Imanol Harinordoquy of all the French players who ruined any chance of a second-half revival, fumbling a routine pass which Madigan gobbled it up, racing 75 metres only to be denied glory by the astonishing pace of N’Gwenya.
The American winger immediately killed the ball, forcing Wayne Barnes to pull out the yellow card as Sexton made it 27-9.
Sexton’s last act was sublime, combining with Nacewa on a raid down the left wing in tiki-taki type fashion to manufacture Leinster’s fourth try. He wasn’t overjoyed to be withdrawn with a calf strain, especially as he had to watch Madigan readily bang over the touchline conversion.
So, Friday night lights, May 17th against Stade Francais, with Felipe Contepomi and Stan Wright returning to Dublin one last time. With so many goodbyes this summer, it will be an emotional night. Hopefully one of those farewells will be postponed for one more year.
Scoring sequence – 4 mins : J Heaslip try, 5-0; J Sexton conv, 7-0; 18 : D Yachvili pen, 7-3; 24 : D Yachvili pen, 7-6; 28 : J Sexton pen, 10-6; 39 : D Yachvili pen, 10-9; 40 : J Sexton try, 15-9; J Sexton conv, 17-9; 40 : J Heaslip try, 22-9; J Sexton conv, 24-9. Half-time. 45 mins : J Sexton pen, 27-9; 50 : I Nacewa try, 32-9; I Madigan conv, 34-9; 56 : I Madigan 37-9; 66 : B O’Driscoll try, 42-9; I Madigan conv, 44-9; 71 : A Heguy try, 44-14; D Yachvili conv, 44-16.
LEINSTER : Rob Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, I Madigan, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen (capt), D Toner; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip. Replacements: R Ruddock for K McLaughlin (42-54 mins, 67 mins), A Goodman for J Sexton (51 ), S Cronin for R Strauss, J Hagan for M Ross, Q Roux for L Cullen, J Cooney for I Boss, J McGrath for C Healy(all 62 mins), A Conway for F McFadden (64 ), K McLaughlin for J Heaslip (79 mins).
BIARRITZ : M Bosch; T Ngwenya, B Baby, D Traille, A Brew; JP Barraque, D Yachvili; T Synaeghel, A Heguy, B Broster; E Lund, P Taele; T Dubarry, R Lakafia, I Hardinordoquy. Replacements: Y Lesgourgues for B Baby (h t ), E Van Staden for T Synaeghel (49 mins), S Burotu for D Traille (57 ), W Lauret for R Lakafia (58 ), F Gomez Kodela for B Broster, T Thomas for A Brew (both 72 mins), B August for A Heguy (74 mins). Yellow card: T N’Gwenya (44-54 mins)
Referee: W Barnes (England).