Events at Twickenham proved one thing for sure…to get the luck of the Irish, it’s not enough to merely call yourself Irish.
Poor Chris Malone just had one of those games. And let’s be honest, we’ve all had them playing sports one time or other. When no matter how many different ways you look back over it and try to find alternative summaries, you always come back to the simple truth : “If it weren’t for me, we’d be in the last 8”.
Leinster for their part played like a team who wanted to do the bare minimum for fear of injuring any of their 6 Nations stars, and they succeeded in that. With the exception of Gordon d’Arcy finding some world-class lines, we seemed happy to hold on to possession when we had it without breaking too much sweat.
The “home” team, however, seemed to have their gameplan just right, and set about “out-Leinstering Leinster” from the start, keeping it tight throughout doing their best to thwart us whenever they could.
And their lineout prowess was just as impressive as it had been in the RDS in October, consigning Bernard Jackman to the bench before halftime.
Now call me a biased Leinster fan all you want, and that’d be ok because I definitely am one, but it really did seem that Nigel Owens was giving every 50-50 call to the home side, particularly in the second half, when he and his touch judge missed Mapusua being well in front of the kicker at one stage, and also there was a suspicion of a forward pass right before Malone’s try.
But despite the fact that he got all 11 of his side’s points, Chris Malone will always be remembered for the 17 points – 1 inexplicable conversion, 2 penalties and 3 dropgoals [the fourth miss was only after a loss of sanity by Rob Kearney following the third one] – he failed to get, and you can be sure that right now it REALLY sucks to be a LettinOn Irish fan.
I mean…when the draw was made for this competition and the Irish were drawn with the reigning champions, had a time traveller appeared and told their supporters 3 facts…(a) Leinster won’t beat you, (b) They’ll still win the group AND get a home quarterfinal, and (c) You won’t qualify for ANY form of European quarterfinal, they’d have found that pretty hard to believe, wouldn’t they?
But that’s precisely what happened, and once again it was an almost perfect weekend for the four proud provinces of Ireland, with only poor Ulster being cruelly denied a playoff spot of any description.
And now we know the makeup of the semifinals as well, it seems that all roads to Paris lie through French clubs for our Irish representatives, definitely for Leinster anyway.
Well for sure it won’t be easy, but I’m comforted by one thing…the French clubs will be less likely to play with the approach the Guinness Premiership sides have used against us, and when we’re allowed to play our game, we’re always in the contest.
But of course as happens every year in the ludicrous stop-start format of the European rugby season, we can’t even begin to analyse the quarterfinals properly until we assess the walking wounded from the Six Nations campaign.
So all we can do right now is ditch our provincial flags, unite under the compromise-IRFU-designed one and cheer Declan Kidney’s men towards a second successive Grand Slam! Bring it on!