Rugby Stats: Leinster don't come from behind in quarter-finals
Munster have come from behind at the interval three times to claim a semi-final spot
Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton celebrates scoring a try with Shane Horgan during the 2011 Heineken Cup Final victory over Northampton Saints at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton-inspired comeback in the 2011 Heineken Cup final, when the Irish province overturned a 16-point interval deficit against the Northampton Saints to win the final 33-22, is part of the folklore of the tournament.
Sexton contributed 28 points from two tries, three conversions and four penalties with the other Leinster score, a try from secondrow Nathan Hines, in what was a perfect illustration of the hoary old cliché about ‘a game of two halves’.
Indeed it was the second final in which Leinster trailed at half-time, having found themselves 13-9 behind to the Leicester Tigers in the 2009 decider at Murrayfield, a match the Irish province eventually won 19-16. It is only in the third of Leinster’s European crowns, a 42-14 victory over Ulster at Twickenham, that they enjoyed the luxury of an interval lead (14-6).
The province’s track record in the semi-finals of those particular years is a little more positive in that they led against Munster (2009, 11-6) and Toulouse (2011, 16-13) at the halfway stage of those matches and it was only in 2012 that they trailed after 40-minutes, overturning a 12-6 deficit against Clermont Auvergne.
However, the resolve Leinster demonstrated in selected second-half comebacks in the previously highlighted matches doesn’t extend to quarter-finals.
In the 12 quarter-finals in which the province has competed since the inaugural European tournament in the 1995-1996 season – there was no last eight in that first season in which Leinster reached a semi-final – Leinster have never overcome a half-time deficit.
If they are winning at half-time, they go on to claim victory and the corollary is also the case in terms of being behind after 40-minutes; it ends in defeat. The only slight aberration took place in 2014 when it was 6-6 against Toulon at the interval in a quarter-final at the Stade Felix Mayol, a match Leinster went on to lose 29-14.
So unless Leo Cullen’s team can find a way to deviate from their tournament history on Sunday when they host Saracens at the Aviva Stadium, their supporters will be hoping the Irish province is ahead at the interval.
Leinster have won eight of 12 quarter-finals, six out of seven at home (85.71 per cent), two of five (40 per cent ) away – the tournament win ratio for teams at home in quarter-finals is 77 per cent – while their only defeat in Dublin came against the Leicester Tigers in the 2004-2005 season.
For those searching for a positive omen from a Leinster perspective, in the province’s 2009 and 2011 European triumphs they beat the defending champions, Munster and Toulouse respectively, en route; in 2012 Leinster were the defending champions. On Sunday they face the two-time and reigning European kingpins, Saracens.
Munster will compete in their 17th European Cup quarter-final on Saturday when they host the three-time champions Toulon at Thomond Park.
In the previous 16 quarter-finals they have overcome a half-time deficit on three occasions against Perpignan (10-7, 2006), Northampton Saints (16-13, 2010) and Harlequins (9-6, 2013), winning 12, eight out of nine (88.88 per cent) as the home team – the only loss to Ulster at Thomond Park in 2012 and a conspicuously successful four out of seven away (57.14 per cent) – considering the overall 23 per cent quarter-final success rate of the visiting teams in terms of the tournament history.
When Munster won the first of two European Cups in 2006, they showed grit to come back from 10-7 at the interval against Perpignan at Lansdowne Road to record a 19-10 win, courtesy of a try from Paul O’Connell and 14 points from the boot of Ronan O’Gara.
They thumped Leinster 30-6 at the same venue in the semi-final, leading at half-time and full-time and it was a similar scenario – 17-10 ahead at the interval – in beating Biarritz Olympique 23-19 in the final. In 2008 they trailed 9-6 at halftime before beating Alan Gaffney’s Saracens 18-16 in the semi-final and in the final led Toulouse 6-5 at the break before winning out, 16-13.
Coincidentally in the three quarter-finals in which Munster were losing at the interval and came back to win, the margin at half-time was exactly the same in each match, three points.
Leinster and Munster do share one statistic in common in that they have both won a European quarter-final without scoring a try against the same club at the same venue. Leinster outhalf Felipe Contepomi kicked two penalties in a 6-5 win over Harlequins at The Stoop, the infamous ‘Bloodgate’ match, while Munster and Ireland icon Ronan O’Gara landed six penalties in an 18-12 rugby overture, largely based on Paul O’Connell’s performance, in 2014.
The two provinces have only failed to score a try one other time in a quarter-final, Munster in losing to Colomiers 23-9 in 1999 and Ian Madigan’s six penalties in Leinster 18-15 win over Bath in 2015.
All of which leads to a conclusion that as long as Munster are winning at halftime or trailing by exactly three points against Toulon the portents statistically are positive while the only way historically that Leinster have progressed to the penultimate stage of the tournament is by being in front at the interval in quarter-finals.