©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Leinster 33-22 Northampton: As it happened

We had minute-by-minute coverage of this afternoon’s historic Heineken Cup Final. Catch up with the action here.

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Wow, major technical difficulties happen in the Millennium Stadium as well. Don’t worry, we’re up and running now and you won’t miss a thing.

Here are the teams.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (C), N Hines, K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, J Heaslip. Replacements: J Harris-Wright, H Van Der Merwe, S Wright, D Toner, S Jennings, I Boss, I Madigan, F McFadden.

Northampton Saints: B Foden; C Ashton, J Clarke, J Downey, P Diggin; S Myler, L Dickson; S Tonga’uiha, D Hartley (C), B Mujati, C Lawes, C Day, C Clark, P Dowson, R Wilson. Replacements: B Sharman, A Waller, T Mercey, M Sorenson, M Easter, S Commins, S Geraghty, J Ansbro.

The stadium is packed. Looks amazing.

Roman Poite is your match referee for today. Leinster fans, you know what that means.

We’re off. Myler kicks into Leinster territory to get us started.

That’s a very positive start by Northampton. Day and Tonga’uiha pound out the yards to move the Saints in the Leinster 22. Jim Mallinder will be pleased by these opening exchanges, that’s for sure.

TRY! Northampton (Dowson, 7′) The game may only be seven minutes old but that’s a sensational start by Northampton. Their stellar front row does an incredible job in the game’s first scrum, allowing Diggin to pick up valuable yards. When the ball is recycled to Callum Clark, he carries to within yards of the line before handing off to Dowson who goes over near the left corner.

Myler adds the extras with a brilliant kick and it’s Northampton 7-0 Leinster.

That was hardly ideal for Leinster, but they’ve responded very positively to the setback. A handling error by D’Arcy deprives them of the momentum, however, handing Northampton the put-in to the scrum.

Great defensive work by Jamie Heaslip. Saints number eight Roger Willson makes a clean line break off the back of the scrum and charges towards midfield, only for his opposite number to haul him in. Wilson is isolated and holds on for too long on the ground, giving Leinster a penalty.

PENALTY! Northampton 7-3 Leinster (Sexton, 14′) The penalty is on the Saints’ ten-metre line, fairly straight on. Sexton steps up with the confidence of a man who is the tournament’s leading points scorer this season and nails it. That’ll help settle the nerves for sure – attaboy Jonny!

I’ve just seen a replay of the Saints try and I have to say they’ve gotten away with one there. The space which Clark steamed into was only made available because Wilson was illegally holding on to Horgan’s ankle after the tackle. Had he not been held, the winger almost certainly would have got there.

I’m not sure how many Leinster fans sitting in the stadium know this, but they have a right to feel aggrieved.

PENALTY! Northampton 10-3 Leinster (Myler, 21′) Myler restores the Saints seven-point advantage. That didn’t always look like it was going over, but it just about had the legs in the end, dropping about three feet behind the bar. Leinster need to be careful not to give away too many more opportunities like that.

Ooooooh. Heart in the mouth stuff there as Leinster come dangerously close to their first try. The ball finds its way to Horgan off the back of the lineout and he shrugs off Dowson before combining with O’Brien to set O’Driscoll free. The centre races towards the corner but knocks on in the process of offloading two yards from the line.

The Leinster front row pops up during the resulting scrum, giving Northampton a penalty and an excellent chance to relieve the pressure.

SIN BIN! Bryan Mujati goes to the bin for a professional foul on Cian Healy. The Leinster prop was in an excellent position to capitalise on Sean O’Brien’s hard work and Mujati rightly goes to the line.

Big opportunity for Leinster to get themselves back into this now.

The Leinster scrum is under absolutely huge pressure at every single set piece. This time, trojan work by replacement Tom Mercey causes the Leinster pack to absolutely crumble, giving Meyler a chance to kick the Saints deep into the Leinster 22.

Leinster look absolutely rattled here.

A bad mistake by Northampton who had Leinster on the ropes there but turned the ball over through a forward pass. Let’s see how the scrum holds up this time around.

TRY! Northampton (Foden, 31′) Unsurprisingly considering the way things have been in this opening half-hour, the scrum goes against the head. Northampton work it through the phases before Steven Myler sells a beautiful dummy which takes him a couple of yards short of the posts. Leinster don’t have the numbers to counter the threat when the ball is moved out wide and Foden battles his way over.

Myler adds on the extras again (how well has he been playing so far?) and it’s now 14-man Northampton 17-3 Leinster.

Not long left on Mujati’s sin-binning by my watch. Sexton has another chance to kick at goal here …

PENALTY! Northampton 17-6 Leinster (Sexton, 36′) Jonny does the business again from the Saints 10-metre line. I’m hoping against all hope that these points will prove to be crucial come the game’s end.

Dadelos has e-mailed me to say that Northampton are absolutely blowing Leinster away so far. I couldn’t agree more, they have been immense in this first period.

Mujati is back and the Saints are back to full strength. It never looked like they were down a man to be honest, they’ve been that good.

A brilliant tackle by O’Driscoll holds Ashton up just short of the line. Northampton try a few pick-and-gos but Leinster hold firm. Referee Roman Poite signals for the TMO …

TRY! Northampton I’ve no idea who had the ball in hand as they went across the line but referee Roman Poite has signalled for a try. Somebody suggests that it might be Hartley, but that can’t be any more than a guess.

Myler’s conversion is from right out on the line and it strikes the left upright. That’s the last kick of the half – Northampton 22-6 Leinster.

Back in a sec.

Words fail me. They absolutely fail me. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the faith – I don’t know any other way of doing things to be honest. But it may take me a second or two to get over the shock.

The general consensus in the Millennium Stadium press box is as you might expect it to be. O’Driscoll’s fitness, too many missed tackles, weakness at the scrum – all of the above have come in for criticism.

Perhaps unfairly, one analyst has suggested that “it’s like watching 15 Ronan O’Gara’s out there.”

What do you think? Or should I even ask?

In the comments, Paddy calls for the introduction of some fit substitutes – pronto.

I can’t say I disagree. Earlier this week, I did suggest that Leinster’s strength in depth could be a key advantage. I didn’t think that Joe Schmidt would be forced to call upon his reserves so quickly though.

I’ve just got word that Dylan Hartley was credited with Northampton’s third try. But you probably already knew that.

Back underway for the second half – come on Leinster. Please.

Again, that was a promising start by Leinster, working their way to within five yards of the Saints line. Some excellent defence allows Northampton to turn it over and clear though.

TRY! Leinster (Sexton, 44′) Leinster have really come out of the traps in this second half and they’ve got their reward. Nacewa and Heaslip both have decent efforts stopped short and when the ball is worked out right to Sexton, he steps over to touch down in the corner.

The out-half dusts himself off and fires his penalty goalwards. It comes off the same post that Myler hit at half time, except this time drops over the bar. Northampton 22-13 Leinster

Dare I say “game on?” I don’t care, I’m saying it – game on!

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, did any body back Leinster to win at half-time? Dan Kerins has just texted me to say that he did – forget about 13-hour bus and ferry trips, that’s loyalty for you right there.

Oooooooh. How close is that? D’Arcy is over in the corner and Roman Poite signals for the TMO. D’Arcy could have been held up …

There are feet and boots all over the place here. I think D’Arcy was held up but, to tell the truth, I can’t really see.

NO TRY! Looks like he was held up. It’s a five-yard scrum and another pivotal moment for Leinster.

TRY! Leinster (Sexton, 53′) Yes, Jonny, yes. You absolute beauty.

For the first time I can remember, Leinster’s scrum holds up under scrutiny and gives them a platform to grind out some yards. Jonny Sexton and Jamie Heaslip execute a loop move that’s straight off the training ground and, though Sexton is brought down just short of the line, he isn’t held and he manages to reach his arm over the line to touch down.

Sexton adds the extras and it’s Northampton 22-20 Leinster.

Penalty Leinster. Come on Jonny …

PENALTY! Northampton 22-23 Leinster (Sexton, 57′) Unbelievable stuff here. Absolutely unbelievable.

Jonny slots another one from near the Saints ten-metre line and somehow – I don’t know how so please don’t ask me – Leinster lead after just 15 minutes of this second half.

Keep the heads now lads, there’s a lot of rugby left to be played.

PENALTY! Northampton 22-26 Leinster (Sexton, 61′) Now it’s Northampton’s turn to miss a host of tackles. First Nacewa, then Healy, then O’Brien all make huge gains. Phil Dowson is deliberately offside in order to hold up the Leinster attack just short of the line and he goes to the bin for his troubles.

Jonny slots the resulting penalty with ease and Leinster extend their lead to four. They have been absolutely scintillating so far in this second half. At the moment, they can do no wrong.

The game has stopped for the moment while Roger Wilson receives treatment on a rather tasty looking injury.

This one ain’t over folks. Leinster really need to push on while they have Northampton on the back foot.

TRY! Leinster (Hines, 65′) Leinster do it again. Relentlessly hammering away at the Northampton line until something finally gives. Hines is the man who goes over this time and Sexton – again! – converts from a very difficult angle.

If Leinster hang on, will this go down in history as “the Jonny Sexton Final”?

MISSED PENALTY! Sexton is fallible after all. It stays Northampton 22-33 Leinster.

We’re just getting some stats into the box here:

  • Six tries is the most ever in a final.
  • Sexton is only the third ever player to score two tries in the final.
  • He needs two more points to level Diego Dominguez’s record of 30 points in the final.
  • If Leinster win, they will have overcome the biggest ever half-time deficit.

Stunning … if they hang on. Still seven minutes left.

72,456 is announced as the attendance. That’s 72, 455 and me for the record.

Six minutes left and the Saints are not giving up the ghost. They are trying to eke out whatever yards they can in an attempt to get the deficit down to a single-try margin.

Northampton just keep knocking the ball on in the most unfortunate of positions. They really are giving this their all, but there are simply too many errors.

Leinster, for their part, look willing to just sit back and absorb the pressure.

Leinster are 120 seconds from glory. Man of the Match Jonny Sexton (two tries, three conversions and four penalties) is substituted to a huge ovation with Jason Harris-Wright coming on in his place.

I cannot believe I am typing this but … LEINSTER ARE THE HEINEKEN CUP CHAMPIONS 2011.

Absolutely unbelievable. There are no words.

Ok, that’s about all I have time for at the moment. I’m going to run to the press conference to see what the lads have to say for themselves.

Check back in with the Road to Cardiff liveblog for further updates on the post-match reaction and celebrations as the night goes on.

Thanks for stopping by.

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