There's always a good feeling walking into Kiely's before the first home Leinster match of a new season, even if it's only a friendly.
The bar is always packed, hoardes are wearing Leinster jerseys, whether they be the brand new one like I was sporting, the Heineken Cup-winning one, or even the die-hards who refuse to put their old-school collared versions with the traditional harp logo out of commission. There's the buzz of anticipation about the place that yet another successful season for their beloved province is about to begin. And then there's Sally O'Brien, and the way she might look at you...
Hang on, getting carried away with the ol' scene-setting there, my apologies.
We got to the ground a bit late, the game had already kicked off. The thing about getting to Donnybrook is though, that's usually the stage when the regular starters who aren't playing take their seats. And sure enough, Isaac Boss was a a few yards away from me as we went into the grandstand, and just down the row from where we were sitting was the likes of Jonny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Cian Healy.
But you'd probably rather hear more about the action, am I right?
Well although the visiting Melbourne Rebels must have had half an eye on the plane home as this was the last match of their tour, they did all the pressing in the early stages. It was very similar to the opening sequences in Ireland's two warmup games so far as we were getting some good defensive work in.
Eventually the defence gave away first a penalty which Wallaby legend Stuuuurling Mawt-lawk (forgive the attempt to write his name as an Aussie commentator would say it) slotted, and then a try in the corner for fullback Richard Kingi that went unconverted.
It took Leinster a while to secure regular possession but when they did things seemed to be clicking well into place despite the numerous untried combinations all over the park. Finally after a decent spell in the red zone skipper for the day Rhys Ruddock crashed over for a try which was brilliantly converted by ex-Crusader Matt Berquist as he literally kicked into the sun.
So that was 7-8 and the home team's heads were clearly already in the dressing room as the visitors came storming back to sneak a second try right before the interval, and with a man down, no less. Their offensive style on the night may have been one-dimensional, with short flat-pass & gain being the tactic of choice, but often it was effective and it was their lock Hugh Pyle who got the touchdown to make it 7-13 as for the second conversion in a row Mortlock's effort fell short.
But all that was merely the appetiser. The main course was to come about ten minutes into the second term and brought the 3,500 strong crowd to its feet.
The Rebels started brightly and were pressing the Leinster line, which to its credit was able to drive them back well. And said driving forced a turnover in our 22 which Old Belvo favourite Leo Auva'a was glad to scoop up and offload to new signing from Connacht Fionn Carr.
He had shown with a few earlier touches that he was keen for his chance to make a break, and with the play broken due to the turnover, this was it. With a sidestep here and a surge there he cut a swathe through a raft of players like it was a sevens match. Having reached the halfway line with ease he found Berquist providing excellent support and the Kiwi then flung an exquisite long pass straight to rookie winger Darren Hudson.
Now I freely admit I knew nothing about the lad but the fact is he had already impressed me with his tackling and wing play before this sequence happened (proven by this tweet) and when he received the ball he had a hell of a lot of work to do. Not only did he have a decent amount of Rebel tacklers around him, he also had the touchline to contend with, but with amazing strength and determination the St Mary's man got to the line. His strength reminded me of Scarlet/Wales sensation George North, or, dare I say it, Shaggy?
Anyway, the try was well worth the price of admission, and the ease with which Berquist stroked over the conversion from the touchline was well worth being the match-winning score.
I thought rookie scrum half John Cooney had an impressive outing as well, and I can only assume he and Hudson earned their starts by showing good form in the preseason. And from that try on, even though Danny Cipriani made his cameo immediately afterwards and showed a few nice touches, the visitors' minds seemed to become more and more focused on the flowing Guinness at the end-of-tour party that was no doubt on the horizon.
There were also sold outings from our centre pairing of Eamonn Sheridan and Brendan Macken, always good to see particularly when you realise the pressure that no doubt comes with putting on a 12 or 13 Leinster jersey given who's further up the pecking order. Ian Madigan showed some extra aggression at full-back and Dominic Ryan & Rhys Ruddock made it clear that when the next World Cup comes around they will probably be sitting in the stands at matches like this one with greater battles on their minds.
So the full-time whistle blew, and before returning to Kiely's I had one task – to get my mitts on one of those Official Leinster Supporters' Club pint-holders. Almost as good value for money as the match ticket was thanks to Hudson's try!
One final thing – as much as I really enjoy tweeting during matches and appreciate all the positive feedback I got for my efforts last night, I'm afraid that isn't going to be the norm for the season to come! My season ticket should arrive next week and I'm going to enjoy every minute of the season as best as I can without tap-tapping on a frustrating iPhone screen for the duration! But since this match wasn't televised as it should have been, I was happy to provide updates for those who couldn't make it.
Maybe someone will do likewise for me at the Northampton game next week which I'll be forced to miss? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? JLP