Monday 23 January 2017

Vincent Hogan: Meek leinster caricature a faint memory

Published 11/04/2011 | 07:45

Well Doctor Ruth, go figure. Was that a category five hurricane that blew through Dublin on Saturday night or just half the city getting jiggy?

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The team that was once an Enid Blyton creation could now make Jackie Collins blush. They hit 49,762 G-spots simultaneously in the Aviva and, through the blur of flushed cheeks and glazed eyes, it was natural to forget about Leinster's friendless, effete past.

They bullied the bullies, you see. Leicester are not, reputedly, the Tigers of old, but that's a bit like saying the atomic bomb has been refined. They are still designed with the purpose of maximum destruction.

So what Leinster did was yet another repudiation of that 'Fancy Dan' history of a team throwing lovely pirouettes behind the scrum, but waving white handkerchiefs in the pack. For this was a game of just the kind of unremitting physical engagement that once brought them out in hives.

Funny, the story of their 2005 European submission to this same opposition is often recycled as one of those meek surrenders that came to define them.

An early bout of fisticuffs led to three Leicester backs squaring up to three Leinster forwards. Just as Martin Johnson prepared to come to the defence of his imperiled backs, the Leinster forwards retreated. It was a moment of haunting and absolute acquiescence.

Johnson, we are told, turned away, a knowing grin on his face.


Whether the story is remotely faithful to the truth is unimportant. For it reminds us of the cliche Leinster had become. Essentially, they had the skill sets but not the cojones. They couldn't find a G-spot with a map.

When Declan Kidney absconded from that doomed marriage, Leinster all but went and bought a scratch card.

Kidney had been their fourth coach in five seasons and the messiness of his departure was symptomatic of how the club was run. Leinster just seemed programmed to make bad choices and, if ever they needed a steady hand on the tiller, now was palpably the time. So, naturally, they did the opposite.

When advertising the post, they stipulated at least two years' Heineken Cup coaching experience as a minimum requirement. Michael Cheika had none. Worse, he had never coached professionally.

His only experience reached back to a spell with Petrarca Padova six years previously. It was like appointing Roy Cropper to be head of Microsoft.

But Cheika's hand is all over this story now. He didn't just turn Leinster into European champions, he gave them a personality transplant. So much so that what Joe Schmidt inherited was a bloody-minded franchise. Hence, whilst Munster were busy playing some version of tag rugby in Brive on Saturday, Leinster were pulling up trees.

And the juxtaposition is relevant. Because one year after Cheika's appointment, Leinster electrified European rugby with that swashbuckling 41-35 quarter-final victory in Toulouse only to then have sand tossed in their faces by the ever-manly Red Army at Lansdowne Road. Caricature endorsed in spades.

Five years on, the memory is almost quaint now. Munster may have avoided a sixth straight loss to their provincial cousins last Saturday week, but they know they are no longer the guv'nors of this precinct.

In some ways, Leinster's separation from a deferential past maybe began with the repatriation of Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings from Welford Road.

Cullen was a colossus on Saturday night, seemingly master of a defensive line-out strategy that involved knocking the opponent's inside arm on every George Chuter throw. It wasn't legal, of course. But then, without the gift of slo-mo, it wasn't decipherable either.

Everything Leinster did was parsed on the gospel of fronting up. Their first attack was launched off a scrum in their own half and, by night's end, the combined tackle-count of their front-row would just about have beaten par at Augusta National.

They looked less a team than a spiritual movement.

Actually, Isa Nacewa's wonderful try would be the night's solitary concession to fantasy. Otherwise, it was all fury and contact, the din of hormones pelting around the stadium like a billion pinballs.

The rawness of the noise brought to mind Geordan Murphy's mischief in the build-up to the '09 final. Pitched in the opposite corner to so many international colleagues, Murphy played up the caricature of a team representing a few thousand Ross O'Carroll-Kelly types, dressed in replica shirts and Chinos.

That was then, this is now. The satire is strictly in the Gaiety now.

Harte a symbol of Irish pride among buck-passers

In a climate of endless buck-passing and recrimination, does any single public figure still make you proud to be Irish?

This column hereby nominates one. For in this busted little island of ours, small mercies don't come any bigger than Tyrone's Mickey Harte.

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