Ospreys rewrite farewell script
Bowe praises inspirational Leinster but Blues fluff their lines on big stage to spoil Cheika exit
This wasn't how it was supposed to end. The script of Saturday's season-ending finale was ripped to shreds piece by painful piece, the slow dismantling of Leinster's faltering at their final hurdle an excruciating spectacle to watch from the first spilled ball to coach Michael Cheika's final, dispiriting exit.
So, unlike last season, only Tommy Bowe and Geordan Murphy will carry medals into the Irish camp; after last season's unsurpassed haul, one suspects the pair won't be dangling the silverware from their necks.
It was a typical cup final, secured by the side who made the least amount of errors, or at least the side who managed to stem their flow much earlier than the opposition. Leinster were quite simply awful and yet they could have snatched it had Jonathan Sexton not dragged his late kick to the left.
Few quibbled with the result though. Captain Ryan Jones may have labelled Bowe their "Irish leprechaun" but there was more design than luck attributed to the winners; this is a hardened, more abrasive Ospreys outfit.
Perhaps Leinster's only consolation in defeat is the reflection of many within the Welsh camp that it is from the erstwhile mocked Irish outfit that the winners derived their inspiration.
"Leinster are the team who've stepped up to the plate in the last couple of years, they've played some fantastic rugby and they were really cruising towards the end of the Magners League," observed Bowe, pint of the sponsor's product in hand.
"And they produced in the Heineken Cup last year. They're really going forward as a team so for us to come over and beat them here is a big statement for Ospreys rugby."
His captain emphasised the point.
"We've fought incredibly hard to get some recognition for our efforts this season and I hope this trophy goes some way toward getting people to support us rather than take shots at us. We want to play rugby that's entertaining and winning. I've no idea why the perception is there. We go about our business; it's easy to throw stones sometimes.
"There's been frustration for us, it's a long old path. Nights like tonight gives us confirmation that we're on the right path. They've the Heineken Cup trophy we're striving so hard to get. We've set the bar now and finished the way we wanted to start the season. With a bit more consistency, we can do even better."
Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Gavin Henson was appearing in the red tops once more; you sense that his prolonged absence from a side aiming to develop a ruthless edge is no bad thing.
For Bowe, his decision to flee under-performing Ulster is utterly justified. "He's been average," smiled coach Sean Holley. "The only thing left for him to win is X Factor, I think.
And his strike rate is decent? "He's got a good strike-rate and he can score tries," Holley deadpans. Cue raucous laughter. Explain Mr Bowe? "Ah, I score a lot of tries in training!"
His alleged off-field prowess notwithstanding, it is Bowe's on-field efforts which have really set the pulses racing this term, his record 39th try in this competition piercing the renowned Leinster midfield defence with embarrassing ease, laying the foundations for the win.
"I don't know if I'm a good example of leaving Ireland. It wasn't about getting away from the country. I just wanted something different. Every now and then it works, sometimes it doesn't. Shane Jennings and Leo Cullen went away and were very successful, then came back. I'm certainly enjoying it at the moment.
"I still think there's a lot left for me to do. There's a huge amount of areas I can work on in my game. Week on week, season on season, I'm going to have to look at different ways to mix up my game, find those holes and score more tries.
"There's a huge amount of expectation all around. We do have tremendous players but the organisation is still very young. We're still way behind in terms of setting certain things in stone and trying to build the organisation. There are certain aspects we're still building.
"But we're definitely going places. Everyone knows how ambitious we are. It's not going to happen overnight. With the players we have, people expect instant success. But I think this season has been a successful season and this has galvanised us and hopefully we can continue to move forward next season.
"We've gone to Thomond Park this season and now the RDS, two of the toughest places in Europe to win. We know we have the capabilities of doing it. But it's in the big matches you need to do it and I think today was a big match. We've got big-game players and I think as a team we're definitely going forward."
As Bowe supped in celebration, Cheika had earlier slinked from the press conference, his Leinster career bookended by Ospreys defeats but substantially sandwiched by the installation of a culture the Welsh side are so eager to imitate.
"It's a lousy way to finish and it doesn't feel good," said a distraught stand-in captain Shane Jennings, clearly struggling to articulate the crushing disappointment of a team who dipped alarmingly below the high standards they have set themselves.
"We didn't play well. If they play a bit and beat us, it can be easier to take sometimes. I don't feel we did ourselves justice, we probably weren't let which is credit to them. We certainly don't have any excuses, beaten on the day and didn't perform well enough."
Instead of victorious valediction, the sting of defeat will accompany tearful goodbyes.
"It's an emotional couple of days. It feels bad now, it feels pretty terrible. Having done well all year in the league we've nothing to show for it. I think over the next few days, we'll realise okay that no silverware isn't great but we came a long way this season, we did well.
"There's a lot of players going as we know. And obviously Michael Cheika. He's instilled a culture here that wasn't here before. And he deserves a lot of credit for that.
"He won't take the credit, he'll pass it on to his staff and all that. But he has worked harder than anyone else, it's a good way to show an example. He deserves a lot of credit and I think Stade are getting a very good coach and a good guy."
Such a pity, then, that his players weren't able to muster a fitting farewell celebration.