|Leinster savour a resounding comeback victory as Northampton see their dreams turn to dust [Reuters]
Fly half Jonathan Sexton delivered a stirring half-time team talk then followed up with an inspirational display to lead Leinster to their astonishing Heineken Cup final comeback win over Northampton.
Trailing 22-6 at the break with their scrum in tatters they looked dead and buried against a Northampton team who left the Millennium Stadium pitch walking on air.
However, fly half Sexton, growing in stature with every game he plays, took centre stage in the changing room to exhort his teammates to turn the game around then backed his words with deeds.
Within 15 minutes he had scored two livewire tries and, after Nathan Hines added a third, completed a kicking haul of 18 points to give Leinster a 33-22 lead after 66 minutes that they never looked like relinquishing.
"There were some inspirational words from Jonathan at half-time which picked us up – he was a man possessed," centre Brian O'Driscoll said of his 25-year-old Irish international teammate.
"There are a lot of leaders in that dressing room but I did have a few words at half time," Sexton added. "I said that we see in sport that teams can come back.
"I felt it was gone when they got that third try just before half time and all we had done to get here suddenly looked to be counting for nothing.
"But we didn't panic, when a team gets some momentum like that it's hard to stop, though I never thought it would go as well as it did."
Leinster director of rugby Joe Schmidt said the credit for the comeback belonged entirely with the players as the region followed up their 2009 success to make it four Irish triumphs in six years.
"There was a lot resolve from some players who showed a heap of character," he said.
"It was just a case of holding the ball and sorting the scrum out, which (captain) Leo (Cullen) did superbly.
"Before the game we talked about belief and I reiterated that I still felt we could do it.
"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."
The defeat was hard to take for Northampton coming a week after losing to Leicester in a gruelling English Premiership semi-final.
Having become the first team to reach the final having won all eight of their pool and knockout games they were in touching distance of completing the sweep after as good a half of rugby as they have have produced all season.
But 26 mad minutes ruined everything.
"Going in 22-6 up with the rugby we played it felt like we had one foot through the door," said fullback Ben Foden.
"But no final is won in 40 minutes and they blew us away in that first 15 minutes of the second half.
"For a neutral fan it must have been a hell of a spectacle but for us it really stings. We've been ahead and choked out games like we did in quarter and semi-final but we just couldn't get hold of the ball this time.
"It's 150 per cent the worst I've felt after a game, it's the pinnacle of professional rugby, coming so close but falling so low."