The Game That Was: Who went and got Johnny so angry?
Sexton puts on another masterclass; Toner shunted over; Larmour does a Campese
Jonathan Sexton celebrates with James Lowe after the New Zealander went over for a try in Leinster’s victory over the Scarlets in the Guinness Pro 14 final at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Man of match
63 minutes of pure Johnny Sexton. The whole gamut: anger, a head knock with quick recovery to destroy the Scarlets, displaying a wonderful range of passing and A kicking masterclass (with token duffer to emphasise his mortality).
There was a perfectly weighted bomb on 12 minutes that invited Rob Kearney to perform his party piece; he was up slowly after a well timed Aaron Shingler hit to plant his third penalty and nudge Leinster clear of Leigh Halfpenny’s double effort on 24 minutes; did a decent impression of Napoleon leading up to Toner’s try; an instinctive kick pass and fingertip release for James Lowe’s try before his boomerang touchline conversion made it 21-11 at the turn.
Course not. Scott Williams caught him with a high tackle – Sexton looked double dazed as James Davies got a shot to his back as he crumbled to the turf – but up he got, spitting words at Williams, before putting the penalty into the corner. The he nailed the touchline conversion of Seán Cronin’s try.
Don’t make him mad. Leo Cullen’s phone must have been inundated with missed calls from Joe Schmidt after Sexton attempted a full frontal smash on Williams on 56 minutes.
Honourable mentions: Jack Conan off the scrum and Tadhg Furlong’s ferocity at the breakdown laughing in the face of those who accused the prop of looking jaded in Bilbao.
Moment of the match
Devin Toner’s 30th-minute try nudges out Sexton’s utter control in creating James Lowe’s killer touchdown. But for Toner’s effort, we witnessed 23 phases of unrelenting physicality with Conan making a genuine case to dislodge CJ Stander from the Ireland eight jersey, some bar-room brawling by Furlong to breach the gainline before Conan shunted Toner over. Yet again, they bullied the Scarlets.
Error of the match
Giving Jordan Larmour an inch of space. The lull in his meteoric rise – only gathering Six Nations and European medals since his eighth try of this debut season in February – was reignited with a chip, ridiculous pace and pick up a lá Campese or Serevi.
If Leinster had somehow lost Leo Cullen could arguably be criticised as Isa Nacewa, similar to Brian O’Driscoll pulling up lame in his last ever game, was withdrawn on 18 minutes. Cullen knew the risk, but placed loyalty in his inspirational leader above the damage Nacewa’s departure would cause the team. Not a gamble at all.
The outhalf situation also worked out perfectly for Leinster – on comes Joey Carbery, in what may be his last game in blue for a while, to dance outside his man and put Luke McGrath clear for Jack Conan’s try.
TMO Neil Paterson, after Scott Williams caught the looping Sexton, “It just looks like a high contact and there is a high contact from seven [James Davies] as he goes to floor. It is not dangerous.”
“We’ve tried to do the double down through the years . . . massive, massive bottle to keep backing up for the last few weeks,” says Rob Kearney. “It being Isa’s last game, it was only fitting we did it for him.”