Monday 21 August 2017

'Our Heineken triumph will fuel Munster's passion'

Leinster star McFadden primed for 'ferocious' derby final, writes David Kelly

David Kelly

David Kelly

It didn't take long for Leinster's thoughts to drift last Saturday.

In fact, they hadn't even left Welsh soil when the prospect of a salivating, wounded, envious Munster intruded momentarily upon their exhilarating celebrations.

"No it wasn't mentioned in the dressing-room," recalls Fergus McFadden when asked did the 'M' word pass anybody's lips. "We just wanted to enjoy the moment."

His colleagues may have coldly calculated their route back from the precipice of defeat, but some emotions were allowed to run riot. For a while, at least.

En route to the airport though, somebody did mention the small matter of this week's attempt at a League and Cup double.

"I talked to a couple of lads on the bus on the way from the stadium to the airport," continues McFadden, a late replacement in last Saturday's final.

"And I said wouldn't it be great to beat Munster in Thomond Park next week? We're all aware of that. It's going to be a massive challenge."

Perhaps staging the RDS homecoming wasn't the brightest plan before the season has ended, particularly as the Munster hordes relish the prospect of becoming the first team to tilt the crown of the European champions.


Of course, the fractured schedule of the northern hemisphere doesn't help. Surely the Heineken Cup should represent the pinnacle of the rugby season, just as the Champions League in soccer is that sport's zenith?

Events in Wembley may thieve much of Thomond's thunder across a media dominated by Barcelona v Manchester United and the GAA championships this weekend.

Try telling the players, though.

Munster fear the failure of finishing the season empty-handed; worse, they are fretful at seeing their ambitions terminally wounded by rivals who now match their haul of European titles.

For Leinster, this earliest engagement with potential fallibility as Euro kings invites renewed challenges to their physical and mental strength.

"It's in the back of our minds coming in here today," says McFadden at Leinster's UCD training base. "We're thinking of them having two weeks to prepare for this.

"They've been able to sit on their couches, watching us walk around the stadium doing a lap of honour. I'm sure that's fuelling their passion for what they want to bring to the match.

"These matches are always ferocious and Saturday is not going to be any different. They're going to want to justify leading the Magners League by 13 points after the regular series so we'll need to be ready for them."

In a rugby sense, Munster will want to inflict as much pain and embarrassment possible upon their rivals; in a season where it may have been tempting to think this derby had become a mite stale, the stakes are now higher than ever.

One of Leinster's assistant coaches, Richie Murphy, couldn't care less when the Magners League final is played. It offers silverware to frank Leinster's pre-eminence and he wants a piece. Snatching it in foreign territory would be even sweeter.

"I haven't really thought about it but I suppose the English Premiership is finishing up next week as well," he muses. "There was a time when the English Premiership finished a week before the Magners League.

"I suppose with extra games, it's just a case of trying to squeeze everything in. It personally wouldn't bother me. Once you're in a final, you've got to do your best, try and bring home the silverware.

"If you look at it, it's a final, a Leinster v Munster game, it just adds spice to it. Munster obviously have been fantastic in the Magners League, winning 19 of the 22 games. They won't want to give up that easy at home. It will be a very physical game.

"It's going to be difficult. They've had a week off leading in to prepare. We have a much shorter turnaround but the buzz we got from winning the Heineken Cup will probably stand us in good stead."

Last time out, Leinster declared their innings at half-time in Limerick and Munster blew them away with a ferocious second-half onslaught to stem a deflating series of five successive defeats to their old rivals.

"I think we learnt a lesson down there," agrees Murphy. "We were sitting in a good position at half-time but we didn't come out and play in the second half. Munster came out all guns blazing and in fairness to them they were fantastic.

"So we feel we probably let ourselves down a little bit and we'll be try to right that wrong at the weekend. It's something that has been mentioned and the lads will probably hear about it a little bit more between now and kick-off."

McFadden already has. "We stopped playing," he assents. "We'd scored a try and then our discipline probably let us down in the second half and Ronan O'Gara kept kicking over the threes.

"We're just going to be conscious of playing from whatever position we're in. And I think we did that against Northampton at the weekend. If we can keep up the same intensity from the second 40, that should be hopefully enough."

Meanwhile, Leinster CEO Michael Dawson last night confirmed details of a new high-performance partnership which will see Leinster moving their training, conditioning and administration to the Belfield campus and the development of a number of educational, research and commercial initiatives.

Under this partnership, Leinster will establish a new high-performance training unit on the Belfield campus adjacent to UCD's state-of-the-art Institute of Sport and Health (ISH).

In addition, Leinster will avail of UCD's extensive suite of top-class synthetic and grass pitches. Players will have access to an expanding suite of physiological and biochemical testing platforms and sports medicine facilities.

Research collaborations will be developed in areas such as high-performance science, sensor technology, bioengineering and sports physiology.

Educational collaboration will see an increasing number of Leinster players enrolling in courses, using the flexible modular UCD Horizons curriculum to prepare for a career after rugby.

The partnership builds on existing strong links between UCD and Leinster. Jonathan Sexton, Gordon D'Arcy and Devin Toner are current students and four of the victorious Heineken Cup winning team are former UCD players (Brian O'Driscoll, Sean O'Brien, Kevin McLaughlin and Fergus McFadden).

UCD RFC is one of the world's most successful university rugby clubs and celebrated its centenary this season. Their 'Team of the Century' included numerous British and Irish Lions and no less than seven Irish captains including such players as O'Driscoll, Denis Hickie, Tom Grace, Fergus Slattery, Mick Doyle, Ray McLoughlin and Bill Mulcahy.

Leinster's quest for enduring excellence, it seems, is only beginning.

Irish Independent

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