Heineken Cup quarter-final, Toulouse 35-41 Leinster, Municipal Stadium, Toulouse – April 2006
Denis Hickie versus Vincent Clerc, the ultimate sprinter's race to the corner flag, remains one of the iconic images in Leinster rugby history.
Munster were in sight of the mountain top but Hickie’s try in this game, with cash-rich Celtic Tiger support in full voice, against these opponents, felt like the start of something special for the fully formed organisation that returns to The Pink City this weekend.
Here was a helter-skelter encounter with moments that resonate over 12 years later. The counter-attack was pure Leinster, now and then, as Toulouse, defending European champions at their star-studded peak, threatened to wipe a five -point lead around the hour mark.
“The ball was in play for 1:30,” Gordon D’Arcy remembers. “Might not sound like much but I was blowing hard, we all were. Toulouse were flinging the ball around. There was two turnovers, a kick down field, Girv [Dempsey] returned the favour and Yannick Nyanaga came steaming past me.”
D’Arcy would atone within seconds.
Somehow, Shane Horgan denied Yannick Jauzion a stroll to the line.
Girvan Dempsey dived on the loose ball. Will Green cleaned the ruck.
“Mal sticking his big paw out for us to go wide just proved we were aligned as a team. Common sense was to get the ball off the field but whenever it was on we always went for it.”
Malcolm O’Kelly was pointing towards acres of space on the left wing.
“My pass was a little high for Felipe,” admits former scrumhalf Guy Easterby.
Felipe Contepomi never needed a second invitation to attack. Hickie took off, past a laid out Cameron Jowitt and around stranded Toulouse captain Fabien Pelous.
“Denis dropped the hammer,” says D’Arcy, who bust a gut to keep pace.
He owns the assist forever. For a change Clerc was the one back-pedalling. The French winger did bundle Hickie into touch but by lifting his legs Clerc inadvertently kept the ball in play.
“There was only two angles for the TMO back then,” Easterby adds, “Typical Denis, unbelievable finish.”
It took another three years to capture the Heineken Cup but the try signalled the beginning of Leinster’s transformation into the dominant team in Northern Hemisphere rugby.