|European Champions Cup final|
|Leinster (6) 15|
|Pens: Sexton 3, Nacewa 2|
|Racing 92 (6) 12|
|Pens: Iribaren 4|
Leinster beat Racing 92 in a nail-biting Champions Cup final to be crowned European champions for a record-equalling fourth time.
Three penalties apiece meant the scores were tied at 9-9 after 70 minutes.
Racing briefly re-took the lead through Teddy Iribaren’s fourth successful penalty.
But Isa Nacewa took over the kicking duties from Johnny Sexton and landed two penalties in the final six minutes to secure victory in Bilbao.
Racing failed with a final shot to take the match to extra time when replacement Remi Tales hooked a drop-goal wide with the clock in the red.
It was the last act of a final in which neither team ever led by more than three and Leinster went in front for the first time with less than two minutes to go.
Amid the tickertape and sprayed champagne, Leinster matched the record set by French giants Toulouse with their fourth crown.
Their latest triumph lacked the thrills of their five-try demolition of Ulster in 2012 or the drama of their comeback against Northampton in 2011, but meant no less to tearful Leo Cullen, who becomes the first man to win the trophy as a player and coach, and his number two Stuart Lancaster, who has rebuilt his reputation after England’s dismal 2015 World Cup campaign.
Racing run low on fly-halves
Backed by billionaire businessman Jacky Lorenzetti, big-spending Racing rarely run low on resources.
However, they found themselves down to their third-choice fly-half after three minutes.
All Blacks legend Dan Carter, initially named on the bench, pulled out of the match with a hamstring injury in the hours before kick-off, while Springbok Pat Lambie was soon forced off with a knee injury.
However Tales, a 24-cap France international, filled in competently at 10 while scrum-half Iribaren, himself playing in place of injured lynchpin Maxime Machenaud, bought his side territory with precise kicking from hand.
Racing’s heavy-duty forward pack slowed down Leinster’s usual slick recycling, while their rush defence denied the likes of centre Garry Ringrose any space.
When Iribaren edged his side 12-9 ahead with nine minutes to go, it appeared that the combination would produce a surprise win.
But Racing’s discipline and concentration wavered as fatigue told and Nacewa, playing his final European match for Leinster before retirement, punished them from the tee.
Both before and after the match, Leinster’s players were quick to praise the work ex-England boss Lancaster has done behind the scenes since he was appointed in September 2016.
Focusing on the technical side of Leinster’s play, his arrival has coincided with a vast improvement in the team’s European campaigns.
After finishing bottom of their pool in 2015-16, Leinster went out in the semi-finals of last year’s competition, and are now two matches away from adding the Pro14 title to this triumph at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium.
Lancaster has vowed to continue at the RDS after speculation linked him with the vacant director of rugby role at Harlequins.
What they said
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster speaking to BBC Sport: “It was tough on me and my family and my friends and all the people who supported me at the time [after his sacking by England]. But this is for them really, all the people who have stuck with me, and it’s been nice to give them an opportunity to see me smile.”
Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton speaking to BT Sport: “We did it the hard way. We couldn’t get going in the game. Every time we got into their 22 the ball was killed.
“It was very greasy and they slowed it down at the ruck, but I can’t believe we are champions again. I’m so happy for the young lads and the coaches. Stuart Lancaster has been brilliant since he has come in.”
Former England fly-half Paul Grayson on BBC Radio 5 live: “Champions find a way to win. Leinster weren’t at their best today, against a side that had nothing to lose, but in those crucial moments they found something more. No surprise Johnny Sexton was at the heart of it.”
Leinster: R Kearney; Larmour, G Ringrose, Henshaw, Nacewa; Sexton, L McGrath; Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Toner, Ryan, Fardy, Leavy, J Murphy.
Replacements: Gibson-Park for L. McGrath (62), J McGrath for Healy (55), Tracy for Cronin (62), Porter for Furlong (66), Conan for J Murphy (62).
Not Used: Ruddock, Carbery, O’Loughlin.
Racing 92: Dupichot; Thomas, Vakatawa, Chavancy, Andreu; Lambie, Iribaren; Ben Arous, Chat, Gomes Sa, Ryan, Nakarawa, Lauret, Le Roux, Nyanga.
Replacements: Tales for Lambie (3), Rokocoko for Dupichot (29 to 37), Kakovin for Ben Arous (55), Avei for Chat (45), Johnston for Gomes Sa (55), Chouzenoux for Le Roux (69).
Not Used: Palu, Gibert.