Jump to main content


Sexton Saves Leinster From London Loss

Sexton Saves Leinster From London Loss

Jonathan Sexton landed an equalising drop goal with two minutes remaining to knock London Irish out of the Heineken Cup and earn reigning champions Leinster a home quarter-final.

Chris Malone, who had a horror kicking display at Twickenham, looked to have sent London Irish through as one of the leading two pool runners-up when he booted a 77th minute penalty to put his team 11-8 up.

But seconds after the restart, recent Ireland cap Jonathan Sexton brilliantly bisected the posts with a long range drop goal as Leinster bagged two crucial points that will see them finish as one of the four highest-scoring pool winners.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Isa Nacewa’s first half try had sent Leinster into the break 8-3 up after Malone and Sexton had traded earlier penalties in this Pool 6 finale.

Malone got Irish back on terms with a 67th minute try but he missed the conversion, one of three relatively easy shots at goal he was off target with.

The Londoners came into the match knowing they needed to clinch a bonus point victory – and also deny Leinster any points – if they were going to finish top of the pool, while a defeat would knock them out.

It was a tough ask for Toby Booth’s men – and it was clear by half-time that scoring four tries against the holders in their current mood was going to be a mountain too high.

Leinster broke the deadlock through Sexton’s fifth-minute penalty from 40 metres and their defence held firm as their opponents battled away in response.

There was a nervousness in Irish’s play. Malone shanked wide what should have been a straightforward penalty in the 14th minute and both the Australian out-half and centre Seilala Mapusua attempted drop goals that ended up way off target.

Sexton was unlucky to see a penalty on the half-hour mark crash against the upright and the ball was snapped up by Exiles winger Topsy Ojo, who embarked on a weaving 40-yard run that ended when he made a forward pass.

Malone found his range five minutes later for 3-3 but Leinster made the ideal riposte before half-time through Nacewa’s 38th-minute try.

Moments earlier, the New Zealand-born winger’s pass to the lively Gordon D’Arcy, that sent the centre over for a try, was harshly adjudged forward by referee Nigel Owens.

But from the resulting scrum, Irish were barged off the ball and ceded possession to Leinster number 8 Jamie Heaslip, before scrum half Eoin Reddan sent Nacewa over in the left corner.

A 46th minute dust-up involving Exiles hooker David Paice and Leinster prop Cian Healy saw the latter take 10 minutes in the cooler, but Irish did not take advantage.

Malone missed another routine three-pointer while Mapusua butchered a potential try-scoring chance when he knocked at the end of a decent move that started with a crossfield kick by Malone to Ojo.

Play began to get stretched as Irish got more desperate and with Healy back on, Leinster regained the whip hand. Their midfield pairing of D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll carried an ever-present danger, one break from the former nearly setting Shane Horgan away.

Malone’s try, then, came somewhat against the run of play. After Mapusua had got over the gainline with a powerful run through the middle, Malone received the ball in the next phase and ignored men outside him to barge over for a score that needed confirmation from the television match official Derek Bevan.

Crucially, though, Malone missed the easy conversion, leaving the game tantalisingly tied at 8-8.

It set up a tense finale and Malone turned down the chance of a drop goal in the 74th minute as an initial opportunity came to nought.

He made amends with two minutes to go with a penalty that looked to have won it for Irish, but Sexton’s last gasp drop was the knockout blow, in every sense, for the home side.

Leinster coach Michael Cheika said: “After losing that first game to London Irish (at the RDS in October), maybe we had to reset our goals.

“But we hung in there, and the way it’s worked out we have managed to get a home draw in the quarters. It’s a positive finish to the pool campaign.”

He added: “(Defence) is something we pride ourselves on. We know it’s a way to exact pressure and maybe we can get tries out of that defence.

“It’s an important backbone to our game. Irish were a pretty attacking team and we had to be aware of the threats they bring.

“We didn’t get broken too many times and in games like this, it’s great to have confidence in your defence.”