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Monday 18 November 2019

Four-Star Generals

Only Healy and Sexton have started all four Euro finals

Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton
Leinster’s Jonathan Sexton

There are just two men who have started in all four of Leinster's previous European Cup finals - Jonathan Sexton and Cian Healy.

Unsurprisingly, Sexton leads the way by playing 312 minutes of the 320 available, ahead of Healy's invaluable 257 minutes at the coalface.

In those games, Sexton totalled 63 points, averaging out at one point short of 16 points per game.

Of course, the out-half's relationship with Europe has been one decorated with big match-turning moments.

It all began when introduced for Felipe Contepomi in the 2009 semi-final against Munster at Croke Park, immediately striking a penalty in front of a record-breaking crowd for a club rugby match.

It didn't end there, as Sexton top-scored with 11 points against Leicester Tigers in the final, including an outrageous drop goal reminiscent of the one he would pull from his bag of tricks for Ireland against France nine years later.

Then again, this was overshadowed by Sexton's most outstanding individual performance when barking, driving and bulling Leinster to a miracle comeback against Northampton Saints in the 2011 final.

The famous half-time words of inspiration, as Leinster trailed by 16 points, were backed up by 28 points, including two tries, to dominate the greatest final from the 23 played.

The heroics were never really needed against Ulster in 2012, when his 15 points were punted on the back of a dominant performance.

It wasn't too long after that Sexton embarked on a hiatus to Racing 92 for two long years. This was accompanied by a decline in Leinster's competitiveness as the province went through a period of transition.

The return of Sexton led to a return to glory last year, when his former club were the victims of Leinster's knack for coming through in the clutch, Sexton hitting nine points and struggling through injury to the final whistle.

For the record, Devin Toner togged out for all four finals as an unused replacement in 2009, a used replacement in 2011 and 2012 and, finally, a starter in 2018.

Sean O'Brien sat beside Toner as an unused extra forward in 2009, locking down the number seven shirt in the back-to-back seasons of 2011 and 2012.

Rob Kearney appeared for Luke Fitzgerald in the 71st minute of Leinster's maiden win in 2009, starting in 2012 and last year.

HOW THEY LINED OUT

2009: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, C Whitaker; C Healy, B Jackman, S Wright, L Cullen (capt), M O'Kelly, R Elsom, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

2011: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), N Hines, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

2012: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, I Nacewa; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), B Thorn, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.

2018: R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, S Fardy, D Leavy, J Murphy.

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