By Bea Asprey, Rugby World Writer
In a nutshell
Shane Williams said farewell to professional rugby with a trademark 78th minute try to win the RaboDirect Pro12 Final. The Ospreys had trailed Leinster for most of the game, but the pocket rocket crossed the line twice during in his final game for the region to reward his loyal following one last time. Leinster were hugely physical at the breakdown, despite missing key man Sean O’Brien through injury, but the visitors held no fear, having won four of their last five encounters, and were in no mood to be bullied by their hosts. They were the dominant force up front, and Leinster had a prop sin-binned in each half of the match.
Heinke van der Merwe’s sin-binning in the 40th minute not only meant that Leinster had to start the second half with 14 men on the pitch, but it also fired up their opponents. As the teams returned to their changing rooms at half-time, fists flared in the tunnel, and when they came back out it was the Ospreys who won the first blood, through Ashley Beck’s try.
Isa Nacewa is a firm favourite at the RDS, and on today’s performance you can see why. Scoring tries is by no means his only party trick – the Fijian, who was awarded Man of the Match, is also a ferocious tackler, and puts in the sort of hits that can lift a whole team’s spirit.
Room for improvement
Leinster’s scrum struggled, and Ospreys fans will question referee Romain Poite’s decision not to award a penalty try just before the break. The set piece was reset a number of times, and Heinke van der Merwe was sent to the sin bin, but the infringements did not show on the scoreboard. Nathan White who replaced Mike Ross after just 14 minutes, also saw yellow in the 73rd minute, and in a performance that echoed Ireland’s at Twickenham earlier this year, the scrum malfunctioned once Ross had left the field.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt: “I am pretty gutted. We knew it was going to be tough and we knew there would be a little fatigue, but going down to 14 men twice meant they had to overwork. They scored tries when we were a man short and those yellow cards certainly cost us. I knew the most dangerous part of the game would be the back end and that we had to keep our noses in front but it didn’t happen. We won the Heineken Cup but it’s hard to console ourselves with anything else because the last one is the one that hurts, and this was just a bit of a bridge too far.”
Ospreys wing Shane Williams: “I’ve enjoyed every success but the one you remember is the latest one, and what a great way this was for me to finish. I’ll never forget this day, it’s nice to be retiring with some silverware. This is up there with anything else I’ve achieved and I hope to continue to be involved with the Ospreys as much as I can.
“We didn’t play particularly well in the first half and it felt as if it took us time to get really involved, and you don’t have much time in a final. Leinster are one of the best sides European rugby has ever seen, and we have a lot of young players coming through like Ashley Beck and Justin Tipuric so I believe we will have the players to be competitive in the Heineken Cup.”
Did you know?
In eleven seasons of Celtic League rugby and 175 appearances, Shane Williams scored 34 tries and one conversion. And he just won’t retire! The Welsh wizard will appear for the Barbarians against Wales on Saturday (2 June) and will feature in the Chartis Cup in Hong Kong.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Ferguson McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Heinke van der Merwe, Sean Cronin (Richardt Strauss 56, Cronin 66), Mike Ross (Nathan White 15), Leo Cullen (capt, Brad Thorn 45), Devin Toner (David Kearney 78), Kevin McLaughlin (Jack McGrath 40-47), Shane Jennings (Dominic Ryan 74), Jamie Heaslip.
Not used: Ian Madigan John Cooney
Tries: Cronin, Nacewa (2) Cons: Sexton (3) Pens: Sexton (3) Sin Bin: Van Der Merwe (40), Nathan White (72)
OSPREYS: Richard Fussell; Hanno Dirksen, Andrew Bishop, Ashley Beck, Shane Williams; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb (Kahn Fotuali’i 55); Paul James (Ryan Bevington 74), Richard Hibbard (Scott Baldwin 74), Adam Jones (Aaron Jarvis 74), Alun Wynn Jones (capt), Ian Evans (James King 55), Ryan Jones, Justin Tipuric, Joe Bearman.
Not used: Tom Smith, Matthew Morgan, Tom Isaacs.
Tries: Beck, Williams (2) Cons: Biggar (2) Pens: Biggar (4)
REFEREE: Romain Poite