Leinster 33-22 Northampton, Heineken Cup Final, May 21
Schmidt never lacked belief
May 22, 2011
Jonny Sexton celebrates his first try in Saturday's win over Northampton at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt has refused to take any credit for his side's remarkable fightback in a thrilling Heineken Cup triumph over Northampton.
Schmidt's side battled back from a 22-6 deficit to claim a famous 33-22 victory at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and clinch European club rugby's top prize for the second time in three seasons. Fly-half Jonathan Sexton orchestrated the Irish province's impressive resurgence with two tries on his way to a match-winning 28-point haul. The 25-year-old playmaker would later pay tribute to Schmidt's half-time pep talk but the Kiwi coach insisted the players deserve the praise for seeing off a determined Saints side.
"We weren't allowed to play really in the first half, and we then we didn't allow ourselves to play either," said Schmidt. "I think there were six unforced errors from us, especially after line breaks when we really should have done better with the ball.
"There was one where Brian O'Driscoll ran about 20 metres, was five or 10 metres out from the line and lost the ball on the ground. Those sort of things are usually things we're a lot more clinical with. If we'd have held on to the ball and kept the pressure on in that half, then we would have been ok I think.
"The other thing in the first half was the scrum. We really found it difficult to keep them down and, once they were up, we kept going backwards. They were two really difficult things for us. That made it all the more challenging but we coped much better in the second half."
Northampton had looked on course for their second success in the competition thanks to tries from flanker Phil Dowson, fullback Ben Foden and hooker Dylan Hartley. But it was the ferocity of their first half showing and their total dominance at the scrum that had Leinster rattled. Faced with a daunting deficit at the break, Schmidt was not phased - "I absolutely believed," said the former Clermont Auvergne boss.
Sexton revealed that words of encouragement from Schmidt - who told his side they would be "remembered" if they turned the game around - helped inspire his own pep talk and superb second half display but his coach played down his role in proceedings.
"I reiterated that I still believed we could do it, and Jonny reiterated that as well," said Schmidt. "We just talked about how we can play and about looking after the ball. I had a chat initially and then the players took it forward from there because in the end they've got to do it on the field, and they did it pretty well."
Schmidt also paid tribute to assistant coach Greg Feek who repaired a Leinster scrum that had been blown away by their Northampton counterparts. "Greg Feek got the forward pack together and worked a bit of magic," added Schmidt, whose side will chase an unprecedented Heineken Cup-Magners League double against Munster next weekend. "We were very conscious that they come up in the scrum - the TV showed that last week against Leicester. We were trying to keep them down and keep them in the scrum and I thought we did that really well in the second half.
"We took a couple of minutes to recover at half time, not from the physical efforts but from the mental anguish of the first half. Then we got together and said, 'Right lads, if we hold on to the ball, construct some phases and start to get the tempo of the game and our rhythm going, there are opportunities out there. We've broken their line a few times and all we need to do is hold on to the ball beyond those line breaks and they'll either make an error or we'll get over the line.
"There was a realisation at half-time that we'd worked so hard for nine months and we're giving it away. That's no disrespect to Northampton, who are a good team, but we felt that we hadn't even played. I knew we would have to score first that was pivotal and when we did the players and the fans sensed the momentum shift."
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