Leinster 12-17 Ospreys, Magners League Grand Final, May 29
Holley savours "special" night
May 29, 2010
The Ospreys celebrate with the Magners League silverware following their victory in Dublin © PA Photos
Ospreys head coach Sean Holley revelled in his side's 17-12 grand final victory at the RDS as they ended Leinster's 20-month unbeaten home record in the Magners League.
Following on from the Cardiff Blues' European Challenge Cup triumph last weekend, Ospreys gave Welsh rugby further momentum heading into the summer tour by lifting the league crown. It was a deserved success for the Scott Johnson and Holley-led region who took the game to Leinster in the opening half, grabbing converted tries through Irish and Welsh Players' Player of the Year Tommy Bowe and man-of-the-match Lee Byrne.
In a tense second period, Ospreys outside-half Dan Biggar kicked a penalty to take his tally to seven points and although Jonathan Sexton's haul of four penalties set up a nail-biting finish, the visitors hung on with their try-line rarely troubled. "As somebody who has been to every single Ospreys game, it's pretty much up there I can tell you - it's a special night," Holley enthused afterwards. "I wouldn't say it was our best performance, but certainly one of our most courageous and determined."
League champions in 2005 and 2007, Ospreys made history by becoming the first club to win the Celtic title on three occasions and Holley was particularly pleased with their dynamic first half display. "We went out to try and win it, we went out to score tries and we did that. There aren't too many teams who can come here and score tries against Leinster. To score two in the first half, it just gave us a little bit more belief that we could try and push on and win it. We tried to lose it in the second half, by giving away some penalties, but our defensive effort in the end was outstanding."
The Ospreys supremo was surprised by the ease with which his side cut Leinster's much-vaunted defence open early on, given the tough battles between the teams in the recent past. When they met last month at this venue, Leinster outscored the Welshmen by two tries to one for a 20-16 win and the Irish province had won the sides' last six encounters.
"We had a game-plan and a strategy, which sometimes comes off and sometimes it doesn't. We just felt that we could get through on a short pass in the midfield, which was the result of our first try. It was a great finish by Lee (Byrne) for our second try. Down the short side, which was something we had spotted.
"Leinster are pretty outstanding in defence, and it's the end of a long, hard season. I'm not that surprised (we cut through them), because we have some great talent. When they get the bit between the teeth, and things do come off then we can score tries. It hasn't quite happened in every game this season. I'm sure you are aware we have bombed chances, but we took the two most important ones tonight."
Leinster coach Michael Cheika, who is moving to Stade Francais, admitted that the better team had won as his five-year term in Dublin came to an end. "Ospreys deserved the win but we're disappointed with ourselves. We didn't play well, we tried to fight our way back into the game, but we made too many mistakes. We probably just weren't accurate in the defensive section or where we needed to be in the team."
Handling errors, poor decision making and an overall lack of energy blighted Leinster's play in what was veteran lock Malcolm O'Kelly's 188th and final appearance for his home province. O'Kelly is one of 10 members of the Leinster playing and coaching staff that are moving on this summer. The departing Cheika, who was hoping to sign off with a third trophy in as many seasons, was left lamenting a lacklustre first half showing which left his side chasing the game.
"I think we had opportunities to come even closer, but you have to take everything at that point, and take every opportunity that you get," he explained. "Unfortunately, we still made a couple of small errors. We showed plenty of guts and plenty of fight, but to win finals you have to be at the top of your game. Ospreys took the chances that presented themselves to them, and we didn't and that becomes the difference. It's happened to us before - but we have done it and the other team hasn't - and we have come out better. That's rugby."
Leinster's chances of hitting back in the second half were dented by injuries picked up by flanker Kevin McLaughlin and his replacement Stephen Keogh. McLaughlin sustained a suspected cruciate knee ligament injury during the latter stages of the opening half, and is rated doubtful for Ireland's summer tour to New Zealand and Australia.