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Saturday May 4, 2024

Sensational end at Croke Park as first finalist is confirmed

Leinster have defeated a valiant Northampton at Croke Park this evening in one of most facinating semi-final battles the Champions Cup has ever seen.

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The famous Croke Park stadium looked strangely empty as the match approached its 5:30 pm kickoff time, with the foray of fans slowly entering through each of the many gates after an afternoon experiencing many of the local public houses. The rush to find the seats appeared to be non-existent ahead of this famous semi-final clash, with only the sacred Hill 16 that stood loud, proud and ready as the match built to its crescendo.

The match, delayed by 10 minutes as a result, eventually got underway in front of a sea of blue flags, shirts and chairs as the Leinster fans made their, albeit late, presence felt. Post initial theatrics, the match got off to a flying start with James Lowe making the most of an Alex Mitchell knock-on by thumping the ball into the away side’s five-metre line for some early pressure.

The match failed to settle down for quite some time after that, with both sides clearly feeling the pressure of such a momentous occasion in front of a record 82,300 fans. The crowd noise was deafening, with the Leinster faithful ensuring that each and every away mistake was noticed.

The place erupted as James Lowe dived over for his first try after an ingenious piece of play by Jamison Gibson-Park. The little scrum half followed a quick tap with a 20 metre pass to put his teammate over the line. Just like the copy and paste option that I may as well use on this report for Lowe’s tries, it was the two countrymen combining again for their second, when the number 9 flicked the ball out to the wing after a messy melee on the tryline that had the big men distracted.

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Leinster were in full flow, with even hooker Dan Sheehan getting in on the kicking as the home side dominated in all areas, with Northampton struggling to keep up with the intensity as their handling errors avoided them any chance of a sustained passage of play.

A Leinster penalty in front of the posts – followed by a Northampton offside at the restart summed up the first half an hour, 15 – 0.

A penalty before halftime from young fly half Fin Smith was all that the midlands side could muster as the two teams entered the tunnel for their well needed break.

The second half started much the way of the first with a James Lowe touchdown on the left wing, the third of the evening for the long haired flyer as Leinster took a 17 point lead over their English rivals.

As the second half settled in, so did the Northampton players. Able to put together phases for what felt like the first time in the match, the visitors put pressure on the opposition try line through powerful carries by big number 8 Juarno Augustus and co. The pressure eventually made hay as winger George Hendy made to chase his own chip – collecting his try line reward as he went.

The entire match it had appeared as though Leinster had the result in the bag with it simply being a process of waiting the full 80 minutes until the crowd could find their way back to the pubs to celebrate. But somehow, beyond all understandable measure, Northampton had suddenly found themselves within 3 points of drawing level with just 5 minutes remaining. Substitute Tom Seabrook found himself in space on the left wing with no one in front of him as, along with a Fin Smith conversion, made it 20 – 17 to gee up the Northampton faithful for a blockbuster finish.

A tense few minutes followed as a packed blue stadium was almost silenced when Northampton broke away to come within just a 15 metres of the Leinster line. The blue line held strong, however, as they managed to turn the ball over to win a penalty, singlaling 30 seconds of ball control before they were able to thump the egg into row Z to end the match,

Sat level with the try line as I write this, the sheer sound of an emotional and proud Irish fanbase echoing around this historic stadium is a joy to behold.

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