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Joe Schmidt looked very apologetic in his pre-match interview when he claimed his charges had been unable to train outdoors anywhere in Dublin what with the snowy weather.
He needn’t have.
As this match finished, I tried to remember how I felt around 7:30pm back on October 2nd as Leinster kicked off against Munster. We had lost three of our first four, deservedly so, the end of our streak against the Auld Enemy appeared nigh, I could see no way we could get anything against either Racing or Saracens in Europe, and there was a possibility our season could be over before it really began.
Now our 2010 schedule has come to an close, things have literally come full circle. We have full control of our so-called Heineken Cup “pool of death”, we’ve crept into the playoff places of the Magners League for the first time with mostly home matches left, and we’ve done this without several key players and in the case of this victory at Ravenhill, minimal effort.
Of course you can never really complain about a victory, but it has to be said the Ulstermen were disappointing. After their recent double conquest of Bath, you really would’ve fancied they’d be well up for this contest, but sadly their 1st XV couldn’t match the amazing effort put in by the staff, Academy players and loyal fans who helped prepare the perfect playing surface the day before.
And it’s not as though we didn’t give them chances either. I really don’t want to knock Jason Harris-Wright’s confidence too much, but it has to be said we are extremely weak at the hooker position. I know I have said it before, but this outing has led me to believe that a Richardt Strauss injury could well dash our Heineken Cup hopes, it’s that simple.
We were vulnerable at both scrum and lineout, but luckily it was our 8/9 combo of Sean O’Brien and Isaac Boss who were able to turn it on at the right times, and if you had to pick two Leinster players who had something to prove that day, it was them.
O’Brien has been unlucky with injuries but having been called up to Declan Kidney’s November panel must have really thought he had a shot at proving himself in the green jersey, yet was ignored. Well Ireland’s loss has been Leinster’s gain, and he has put in Herculean efforts in blue throughout December, claiming Man of the Match on Monday in fine style with his first half brace of virtually identical tries.
Boss was instrumental in both those touchdowns, and he too must have received immense satisfaction from them, given he was the decisive try scorer for the Nordies in the corresponding fixture last year, only to find out later in the season he was to be shipped down to Dublin to make way for a high-priced Saffer who, it has to be said, did little to justify the move on the day.
And when we nabbed a 3rd try on 57 minutes in fine style with a textbook series of phases to create an overlap before chucking it out wide to Shaggy to finish, you really got the sense that an unfathomable bonus point win was on the cards.
But with a 5-day turnaround ahead to New Year’s Day clash with Connacht, though I was disappointed the 4th try never came, I knew that the blessings had to be counted. With Isa nabbing another 6 kicks to take his season’s Magners League tally over the 100-point mark, the result was really never in doubt and in some ways I was happy that the home side were able to pull a late try back via Gilroy and give the home fans something to cheer about.
When you consider this comprehensive victory was achieved without Kearney, Fitzgerald, D’Arcy, Sexton, Heaslip, Healy, Hines, Reddan & McLaughlin, it’s hard to do anything but heap praise on coach Schmidt for instilling in his squad a rugby philosophy which, although it took a few weeks to click earlier in the season, is now paving the way to what could be a successful 2011.
I’m extra glad most of the upcoming matches are at home so I can be there to see them!
Have a Happy New Year, folks.