High kings receive the royal treatment

Leinster fans take cover as the heavens open at the RDS. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Leinster fans take cover as the heavens open at the RDS. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 

Rugby:Torrential downpours couldn’t dampen the spirits as Leinster fans turned out in force to welcome home their high kings of Europe at the RDS today. An astonishing second half comeback against Northampton saw the Irish province collect another Heineken Cup crown.

And thousands of supporters packed the stadium in Ballsbridge this afternoon as captain Leo Cullen and his side paraded European rugby's greatest prize for the second time in three years.

Trailing 22-6 with their scrum in total disarray Leinster looked dead and buried against a Northampton team who left the Millennium Stadium pitch at half-time walking on air.

However, Jonathan Sexton took centre stage in the changing room to exhort his team mates to turn the game around then backed his brave words with even braver deeds as Leinster completed a remarkable comeback to triumph 33-22. .

Leinster director of rugby Joe Schmidt said the credit for yesterday’s comeback belonged entirely with the players as the side made it four Irish triumphs in six years.

"There was a lot resolve from some players who showed a heap of character," said the Kiwi. "It was just a case of holding the ball and sorting the scrum out, which Leo (Cullen) did superbly.

"Before the game we talked about belief and I reiterated that I still felt we could do it. There was a realisation at half-time that we'd worked so hard for nine months and we're giving it away. That's no disrespect to Northampton, who are a good team, but we felt that we hadn't even played.

"I knew we would have to score first that was pivotal and when we did the players and the fans sensed the momentum shift."

The defeat was hard to take for Northampton coming a week after losing to Leicester in a grueling Premiership semi-final. Having become the first team to reach the final having won all eight of their pool and knockout games they were in touching distance of completing the sweep after as good a half of rugby as they have have produced all season.

But 26 mad minutes ruined everything.

"Going in 22-6 up with the rugby we played it felt like we had one foot through the door," said fullback Ben Foden. "But no final is won in 40 minutes and they blew us away in that first 15 minutes of the second half.

"For a neutral fan it must have been a hell of a spectacle but for us it really stings. We've been ahead and choked out games like we did in quarter and semi-final but we just couldn't get hold of the ball this time.

"It's 150 per cent the worst I've felt after a game, it's the pinnacle of professional rugby, coming so close but falling so low."