It's hard to follow a sports team without being even just a little bit superstitious.
So while there were plenty of performances on Leinster's side of things that made them worthy winners, I'm willing to buy into the whole “Jamie as captain” hype because we did have a few nods from Lady Luck on the night as well.
Looking at the two squads going into this contest, there were two things we needed to happen for us to have a chance – (1) for the injury gremlins to stay away from positions 9-15 for the first three quarters, and (2) for us to build a sizeable lead in that period.
In a hotly contested match like this one, that can be a lot to ask for, but although Isa was forced off on the 50th minute, our 3rd try came from the very next play while I was still discussing Fionn Carr's defensive liabilities with those around me in the East Stand.
It also didn’t hurt that the powers-that-be settled Joe Schmidt’s future during the week, clearly they were guided by my post after the Connacht match. Ok, maybe not.
ROG passed with his first 5 open field possessions – in fact, the first Munster kick in open play came from Casey Laulala. If that's the way they wanted to play, I feel it would have been more effective with the former Cardiff Blue at 13, Downey at 12 and Earls on the wing. They did switch to this formation in the end, but way, way too late.
It took Leinster errors to bring about the two Munster tries...first Ian Madigan running into a cul-de-sac (reducing his credibility at 15 even further), then late in the game a turnover off what should have been a routine maul followed by Eoin Reddan's inability to free his arm to stop his opposite number gave them a sniff at staging a comeback. But for the rest of the match, though we had most of our defensive mojo back, the visitors also seemed unable to penetrate in much the same way they showed in Swansea the previous weekend.
It's hard to tell what was more “cut-up” on the night...the Munster fans or the dodgy Aviva Stadium turf! But having said that I wouldn't hesitate in predicting them to turn things around for their trip to Paris next week; I doubt Rob Penney won all that silverware down under by pure luck, plus you must NEVER rule out the men in red when it's Heineken Cup time.
Back on the Leinster side of things, we needed our stars to step up and they certainly did, and the three tries on the night proved to be enough to get the job done and erase the painful Galway memories once and for all.
After Munster's first attempts at going forward by spreading the ball got nowhere, BOD had no hesitation putting the ball in behind their defence on our opening possession, and from there it was a pleasure to see the Blue Magic offence in operation once again, with regular front foot ball paving the way for Richardt Strauss to show the dexterity to get the opening score with downward pressure from his fingernail.
Then Ian Madigan atoned for his earlier error with a strong finish after once more we exerted relentless pressure in their 22. And the move even included another display of impressive handiwork from Strauss.
But when it came to try-scoring we certainly saved the best for last. Lineout on halfway impressively taken, a burst up the middle by Fergus McFadden (a strong 80-minute display from a 12! Woo-hoo!) that left the Munster midfield for dead, yet another strong carry from Mighty Mauss, some quick distribution including a trademark zinger from Madigan, with BOD out wide to get the ball down.
And when Damien Varley, barely on the park, was sent to the bin for a foul in the move before that 3rd try, it seemed an unlikely bonus point was on the cards, but it was not to be. I doubt anyone wearing blue felt safe before the clock hit 78, but can't be much dispute over how the points on the Pro12 table were distributed when this one was over.
There was much chatter in the ruggersphere about the ref Leighton Hodges. Personally, I think the occasion got to him a bit. At one stage he turned to Jamie Heaslip and said : “I'm in the way lads” - couldn't make out the reply but I'm sure it could have been “no shit!”
He did make a few mistakes alright, like awarding a penalty against Fergus McFadden for holding after the tackle when BJ Botha clearly stripped the ball from him moments before, plus not understanding the spirit of the new scrum laws which demand a swift decision one way or another...instead we were back to the murky world of re-sets, though Leinster fans didn't mind that in the final ten minutes!
However while it will be no surprise to most that I feel he got the call on the late Laulala touchdown spot on, I reckon we're hypocrites if we say he should have gone to the TMO. The replay shows Earls had the ball down short of the line and Casey dotted down well over it...if the ref gives the decision himself, then we have to assume that is what he saw and if so, fair play to him.
Same goes for the first Munster try. We all looked around in disbelief as it seemed from our angle like a forward pass but Hodges made the call on the spot that it went off a Leinster hand and if he isn't in any doubt, most neutral rugby fans would actually give him stick for going upstairs.
Back to the displays on the night...placekicking was a bit wonky for both star out-halves. Sexton had trouble adjusting and all his kicks seemed to head for the same side. Luckily he got it right for the conversion of the BOD try which gave a vital 16-point cushion.. As for ROG, sorry to all his fans but I have to say Munster were a much bigger threat when Keatley came on and I reckon he'll need more gametime when the Heineken Cup starts.
If you were to base selection for the Irish team purely this weekend just gone, you'd have to say Richardt Strauss was front-runner for the number 2 jersey. He may know how to cough up a penalty or two but he certainly wouldn't be our first hooker like that! Much deserved man-of-the-match award for him and I hope both his workrate and patient three-year wait are rewarded by Declan Kidney in November with some game time.
Another battle with test implications was at scrum-half and it has to be said Eoin Reddan won hands down. His quick supply was a key factor in all three Leinster tries and for the gagillionth time it has to be said that to pair him with Sexton for Ireland is a “no-brainer”.
There were good cameos as well from the very youngsters we thought may hinder our chances on the night...Jordi Murphy had a solid showing in the fierce back row contest after McLaughlin was forced off early. And the now famous magpie didn't provide the only unusual wings on the pitch...we also had John Cooney who's dance down the touchline & kick forward helped put the victory to bed.
But after all the stick I've given him this season so far, I have to credit Noel Reid for his tackle on Casey Laulala shortly after coming on – I hope that gets singled out at the DVD session this week it was a super way to introduce yourself to such a big match.
So much like our 2010/11 campaign, we needed a second-half O'Driscoll try to help seal a win over the “Auld Enemy” to kickstart our season. Exeter's big win over Harlequins means both our Heineken Cup openers will need similar displays, so hopefully the injuries to McLaughlin, Conway & Nacewa weren't too serious. Wonder if Leo Cullen would mind if Jamie kept the armband a while longer? JLP
Also this weekend…