ONE MORE YEAR
I started this blog back in 2008 to chronicle my experiences as a Leinster season ticket holder. I mention this because never before have I been more proud to be one.
Although I’m fully aware that writers are known for stretching their descriptions of events to extreme proportions for the sake of good copy, I can’t write up this occasion without pointing out that there seemed to be a “perfect storm” of good things for Leinster fans to savour in Ballsbridge on Saturday afternoon. So the best way to describe them would be to list the key elements one by one.
It’s approaching May yet we had freakin’ hailstones in Dublin on the Friday afternoon. HAILSTONES, I tells ya! Yet by match time on the Saturday the skies over D4 were clear…not quite summer-esque conditions temperature-wise, but certainly tropical compared to what we have gotten used to in the past while.
I mention this because of its absence. Our 3-in-a-row dreams died way back in January and have been both buried and mourned by Leinster fans since then…also the up (just one) and downs of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign did much to aid the “moving-on” process.
Even though we won our European semi last season, I most certainly did not enjoy watching it…the butterflies were wreaking havoc on my insides from the moment I woke that morning right up to the final whistle. For this match, however, while I was certainly up for a battle, it was without so much of the nerves, and the atmosphere around the RDS seemed to reflect that as well.
Can we please, please put the term “champagne rugby” to bed? That implies that Leinster’s style is somehow attempting to mimic the French flair that has graced the game for decades.
The approach of Joe Schmidt’s Leinster is one that has been forged on the pitches & DVD rooms at their training base in UCD. It is one that has been designed not only to entertain but also to acknowledge the full transition of the sport to professionalism by pushing the boundaries of what a 15-man team in perfect sync can achieve.
Take your pick from Leinster’s 5 tries and look back on the recording to around a minute before they are scored…invariably the play is way down the other end of the pitch. Did everything we attempt come off? No. But when at first we did not succeed, the collective mindset endured to make sure we scored try and try again.
It has to be noted that the score in this match was a mere 10-9 to the home side as Sexton restarted after Yachvili converted his third penalty, with the clock ticking into the 38th minute of the first half, no less. Yet Leinster weren’t for letting up and by the time I was retiring to the South Stand bar for my half time pint, the scoreboard read an incredible 24-9.
To be able to achieve that level of precision, penetration and (in most cases) execution so often against a squad of players who were hardly pushovers is certainly a unique ability in the modern game, and fully deserving of its own word – major kudos to the original coiner of “Leinstertainment”, whomever that may be.
The biggest testament to another nigh-on flawless Leinster display without the ball was the fact that the speedy Biarritz winger Taku Ngwenya could only get involved in the action by tackling our players (though some of them were fine tackles even if his shenanigans after one got him binned).
You had straightforward tackles at the waist that I prefer to see more often than not, you had poaching at the breakdown like Cian Healy wrestling one free at the start of the second half, and you had crunching open-field tackles that directly led to tries like BOD’s on Aled Brew before the Sexton/Nacewa double act that put the result even further beyond doubt.
I was a bit surprised in many cases by Biarritz’ approach, like sending so many restarts towards Devin Toner for example, but for the most part whatever their offensive strategy may have been it was thoroughly devoured by the 15-headed blue monster.
THE INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE
Leinster succeeded mostly thanks to a team effort, but for all the grief he gets from certain sections of Irish rugby fans, Jamie Heaslip’s man-of-the-match display deserves a mention.
He earned his spot on the 2009 Lions tour thanks to his marauding runs planting defences on the back foot to stay. Since then though, he has had to accommodate the rise to the top of Sean O’Brien by taking on the role of an openside flanker more often than not for province and country.
But although the accusations of his detractors normally point to him being “invisible”, I’m not so sure that is the motivation behind them. Well whatever the reasons may be, if anyone gives them now after this performance, they are showing themselves up, not him.
103 metres gained with the ball. 9 tackles made, none missed. Oh, and two tries.
Also there was evidence of something he has shown this season but noone anywhere seems to be mentioning…sterling work in his actual No8 role in the scrums, keeping the ball in when it comes through clean, tidying it up if it doesn’t.
As worthy a recipient of the MotM as you’ll see, and considering all he has been through in the past few months, it must surely stand to him to be able to step up the way he did in O’Brien’s absence.
THE VISITORS’ VILLIANY
During the week I watched a recording of Biarritz dismantling Gloucester in Kingsholm…whatever about their position in the Top14, they had all the ability and motivation to get something out of this one if we were willing to let them.
But Heaslip’s opening try in the 3rd minute clearly shook them…not just because of the way they were torn apart at the lineout, but also Ian Madigan’s clever little run to block off a would-be tackler or two was hardly appreciated.
This led to Damien Traille giving Madigan a bit of “shin-to-head” treatment shortly after the resulting kickoff, something BOD rightly reacted to.
Then later we had the massive Eric “the Viking” Lund stepping into a ruck blocking the ball with his foot while at the same time smacking the prone Kevin McLaughlin to the chops with his fist. It was Richardt Strauss’ turn to react, not caring a jot he was about as tall as Lund’s beard.
When your opposition is doing things like that, you know you’re doing something right. And the pièce de résistance came in the 75th minute when Imanol Harinordiquy, the game’s ACTUAL invisible number 8 (so much so he was actually wearing 25 for most of the match!), furiously kicked the halfway-line marker in frustration after yet another Biarritz attack went nowhere.
Some of their fans were sitting alongside us and we had some good craic with them…but the only thing their heroes did to perfection on the day was play the villian’s role.
THE RDS CROWD
I have been a vocal critic of the Leinster crowd in the past. Hearing the rallying cries of “Fields of Athenry” and “Stand Up For The Ulstermen” at other grounds was never quite matched at the RDS to my liking.
But while I never quite took to the singing of “Come On You Boys In Blue”, there was a chorus of it in the 61st minute that certainly did give me goosebumps…sure, it could be argued that the crowd was only singing in unison because the victory was beyond doubt, but it was a stirring rendition nonetheless. However it was nothing compared to what happened a couple of minutes later.
Sean Cronin was barely on the pitch when he pinned his ears back for one of his trademark sprints down the field before popping up a lovely pass in the tackle that allowed Nacewa to send in O’Driscoll for the fifth try. It was fitting for the contender for Lions skipper to register on the scoresheet, but the tour was furthest away from the minds of the Leinster faithful that day.
The Man of the Match award may have gone to Heaslip, but if there was one for Person of the Event, it would have to go to whoever started the chant of “One More Year!” in what seemed to be the North Stand. The sight of BOD grinning on the big screen was a joy to behold, and what’s more the chanting didn’t even deter Ian Madigan from slotting the extra two points from out wide.
Certainly a moment for Leinster fans to remember, not to mention the man himself, and as a side note it also made one blogger’s choice of writeup headline very, very easy.
Over the coming weeks the thoughts of Leinster fans and indeed the wider rugby world will rightly shift to things like Lions tours, new head coaches for Ireland and Leinster, and of course the destination of silverware.
But just for today my thoughts are on my Saturday afternoon in Ballsbridge. The video highlights give you an idea, but you definitely had to be there, and I hope my words have done it some justice.
It certainly makes me feel good about signing up for one more year of Leinster rugby. JLP
Click here for some excellent snaps from the RDS by @kensutz on the day
UPDATE….minutes after publication of this post, the IRFU go and announce Joe Schmidt as the new Ireland coach. Thoroughly deserved, many congratulations to him, and certainly fitting after masterminding a perfect display such as this one. Mahoosive shoes to fill at Leinster.
Also this weekend…
Amlin Cup semifinal
Perpignan 22 - 25 Stade Français
Heineken Cup semifinals
Clermont Auvergne 16 - 10 Munster
Saracens 12 - 24 Toulon
British & Irish Cup semifinals
Munster A 15 - 17 Leinster A
Bedford 15 - 18 Newcastle Falcons