It would be very easy to start deploying every sports cliche and superlative going to tell the tale of this game.
So I’ll try not to because that would be talking about the whole rather than the sum of its parts, which is the remarkable 44 athletes who all contributed to the greatest HEC Final ever. Ok I succumbed, but allow me one!
I always thought Northampton would be struggling in this game as they had been battered quite literally into submission last week by my beloved Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership semi final. To get themselves up for this game would be problem physically I thought, but not mentally.
How wrong could I be? In the first half Saints destroyed the much vaunted Leinster defence and seemed to have the game by the scruff of its neck. Every call went their way, every bounce of the ball and every thing they tried came off. Even when their prop was sin binned for a pull of a shirt, their pack now down to 7 against an Irish 8 went on to totally dominate all before them. They took a quite improbable and very much unexpected 22 – 6 lead into half time. I’m betting every rugby hack in the stadium was frantically re-writing their pieces to tell the story of a miraculous underdog victory.
Who ever did the Leinster’s team talk at half time (Their fly half Jonny Sexton if rumour is to believed) needs to have that ability bottled, because the Irishmen came out of the traps like mad dogs and tore into Saints with all the fury that only Irishmen can bring to a game of rugby. In a remarkable 27 minutes they scored 27 points and the game was done and dusted. A comeback like no other. And the record books will show that Leinster are HEC Champions of 2011.
None of that really captures the effort, the courage and the violence of the 80 minutes that the 2 squads produced. I have not seen a full international produce that intensity, that level of commitment that those 2 sides produced to the lucky 72,500 fans packed into a jumping Milleneum Stadium. Maybe the 3rd Lions test in South Africa in 2009 if any rugby afficionados want to argue!
But lets not forget that while there were a lot international players on show, there were some non capped players out there. All of them aquitted themselves with honour and gave everything for their club mates.
There are losers in every final, and seeing the Saints players who only a week ago were still on for a League and HEC double collapse totally desolate, exhausted and in tears onto the turf at the final whistle as their hopes for a trophy of any description vanished, is something I won’t forget in a hurry. It’s also a scar they’ll have to bear for the rest of their sporting lives.
On the other hand the delirium from the men in blue was joyous to behold, the difference was astonishing, the difference was victory.
The best HEC final ever. Bring on next season.