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Toulon And Leinster Bring The Fire – Heineken/Amlin Round Up

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Leinster claim European silverware for third year running

And so it is, the Heineken Cup has left Ireland for only the second time since 2006. At least it left in style though, with Toulon absolutely powering Clermont off the field in the closing stages of a nerve shredding match. Leinster gave a great account themselves the night before too, albeit with one eye on the Rabo, as they put Stade to the sword to win the Amlin (and as a result, a record breaking third European trophy in a row). The argument still lingers as to whether or not Leinster fans were building up the second tier in hopes of elevating it’s status as a Heineken Cup replacement; tell that to the players who brought all the required intensity of a Heineken test to the RDS on Friday.

It’s been a rough and tumble season for Leinster, Sexton departing, a couple of bad early game matches, a lukewarm start to their European campaign. The ball hasn’t stopped rolling either with Schmidt and Nacewa now poised to leave but what is important is that they got their season back on track. First tier, second tier, who cares. When the reigning champions still have rugby left to play they do so with pride and that is exactly what they did on Friday. Ok, it wasn’t exactly vintage and Stade weren’t lighting the place up, but it still managed to toss out a greatest hits of Leinster hallmarks. There was that dogged defence that has seen them through the last two seasons, there was scientifically measured kicks from Sexton expertly handled by Nacewa, a spirited Isaac Boss gave a fantastic account of himself, Kearney continues his climb back into form and Heaslip once more was immense if not a little more “unseen” this week.

Stade were up for it, loose and wild as their plays may have been, and it was the sheer skill and nothing more from the home side that saw them clear at half time. It got a little muddled in the third quarter (as it always was going to once I sat down in the South Stand such is my luck!) but they finished it with a little more class and seem to remember now, with a full compliment of players, the team they truly are. Irish rugby fans may have had a torrid time of it in the Spring, but with nights like this and Munster showing the class they did in the quarter and semi combined with Connacht once again challenging in the Heineken and Ulster waiting to “host” Leinster on Saturday, things are far better than the Six Nations table suggests. Leinster 34 – 13 Stade Francais

That other fixture, you know the one in the Aviva, looked all set to be a bit humdrum after Friday. Toulon tackling Clermont would surely be nothing but a battle of the boots and for the first half I suppose, that was true. But this competition thrives in peculiarity and surprise and that’s exactly what the second half brought. The game until this point had happily trundled along, no lack of flair from either side but no real threats either. Clermont took the pitch after the break a team possessed however. In the space of eight minutes they had two tries on the board, thanks primarily to Rougerie who was instrumental in creating both. With those scores and a single conversion (which would come back to haunt them) Clermont took a 15 – 3 lead and it looked for all the world as though they would pull away. But Toulon had other ideas and through immense pressure, one simple turnaround saw Armitage run in a try which was expertly converted by Wilkinson. Now we won’t dwell on the absolute daft and grotesque pre-try celebrations from Armitage, but the score knocked Clermont for six.

With little time left and Toulon not looking like tiring, it started to dawn on them that this game could be lost. What followed was mostly Clermont but mostly panicked. Had they kept some form of composure who knows what could have happened but they just couldn’t find the edge. It was tough on them, no doubt about that. They are one of those teams, one you can hardly begrudge a win simply down to their fantastic brand of rugby, but just ask Ulster, Northampton and the many more who have reached this stage and failed. Even worse, for the likes of Northampton before and now Clermont, you’re never home and dry in a Heineken Cup final. It’s massively fluid and aggressive rugby and the second complacency is even contemplated, teams lose. Toulon truly deserved it however, and once more we have one for the books, a one point thriller of a final and as fitting as any for the Aviva Stadium. Here’s hoping it isn’t the last. Toulon 16 – 15 Clermont

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