Rugby

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Leinster refusing to let their era end

Leinster 34 Glasgow Warriors 12

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Published 02/06/2014 | 02:30

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Zane Kirchner runs in to score his side's third try during a superb display against Glasgow as Leinster won the Pro12 crown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Zane Kirchner runs in to score his side's third try during a superb display against Glasgow as Leinster won the Pro12 crown. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip locks horns with Glasgow Warrior Jonny Gray lock horns Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip locks horns with Glasgow Warrior Jonny Gray lock horns Glasgow Warriors. Photo: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Brian O'Driscoll shares his champagne with Leinster mascot Leo the Lion at the end of the game. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Brian O'Driscoll shares his champagne with Leinster mascot Leo the Lion at the end of the game. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

They say time waits for no man and, although it briefly stood still for a rousing round of applause at 6.23 on Saturday evening, 'they' were right once again.

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Brian O'Driscoll has been writing his own scripts for 15 years, but eventually he ran out of ink as the calf he has been carrying for much of the season finally gave in.

As a result, the afterlife came 72 minutes early and the great man watched time move on without him.

From his front-row view in the Anglesea Stand, he watched his Leinster team-mates do what they do best by winning a trophy.

At the end, he had to be physically cajoled to the front of the podium and even then he refused to take away from Leo Cullen's moment.

Captain Jamie Heaslip said it was O'Driscoll's humility that kept the outside-centre from hogging the glory, but perhaps it was the realisation that they'd won it without him.

DESERVING

In Paris, the great centre had gone out on the highest of highs, contributing hugely to a Six Nations win and deserving the fitting finale that followed, but Saturday was different.

He only played in seven of the 22 regular season league games this season. In the semi-final, he went off with Leinster trailing Ulster 9-0 and in the final the score was 3-0 to Glasgow Warriors when he left the scene.

Instead, a man 10 years his junior – Ian Madigan – replaced him and made a defining contribution; a Springbok he once faced in midfield scored two tries from the wing while setting the other two up; and Heaslip, Sean Cronin and Fergus McFadden made the telling physical contributions to Leinster's seventh title in seven years.

Cullen had come on with 20 minutes remaining and, although the result was still in the balance, that scenario didn't last and he had a comfortable goodbye.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Cullen and O'Driscoll's legacy is that they leave the place in such good nick.

For Matt O'Connor, however, this was about gaining a platform from which to build into the future and there was a little bit of redemption at play.

In the aftermath he referenced being "written off" by elements of the media after the defeat to Toulon, but the unrest has been palpable in the RDS as the team has failed to click for the Australian.

On Saturday, they finally showed just what they can do, hitting heights not seen since the marquee win over Northampton Saints in December. As a result, there were none of the grumblings that have followed most other wins around Ballsbridge this season.

Retaining the league and getting out of a Heineken Cup pool that featured the eventual Premiership winners and Top 14 finalists represents progress, even if the growing pains were hard to watch at times.

"It's huge because that's what the environment expects," O'Connor said of winning the trophy.

"That's what everyone involved has come to expect of Leinster rugby. Nobody has shied away from the expectation and that drives the environment every day to deliver that.

"The pleasing thing is the performance. We spoke a lot about the disappointment that went with the performance in Toulon and that drove us through the back end of the season to make sure we were better.

"It wasn't always as pretty as you would have liked but there was genuine growth that the players and the coaches could get their teeth into and build the game around and that was clear tonight."

As O'Connor acknowledged in both the semi-final and the final, Ian Madigan's introduction made a significant impact. With O'Driscoll's calf affecting his training, he had run at No 12 all week at UCD.

Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll have dovetailed brilliantly for 11 years, but it appears the key to unlocking the Leinster outside backs' talents is what Jimmy Gopperth described as a "second distributor" or what they call back in New Zealand a second five-eighth.

All season, they have looked better when breakthrough star Noel Reid – a former fly-half – has played No 12, and Madigan's influence at inside-centre on Saturday helped Kirchner, Rob Kearney, D'Arcy and McFadden to thrive.

"It's a big thing when you play two distributors," Gopperth said. "You can get a little bit more width in the game and move the ball around. If one guy is in a ruck or takes contact, the other guy comes in and takes it and he's a half anyway.

"In that respect you can speed the game up. In the latter stage, it was a big turning point for us to be able to put them under that pressure when they looked like they were fatiguing a bit."

Glasgow came with a record of troubling Leinster at the RDS and they left with that intact, albeit along with it a reminder of how far they still have to climb to get to the top of the tree.

They caused the hosts plenty of problems in the first half but couldn't breach the core pillar on which the title was won: the Blues' defence.

Impressive young fly-half Finn Russell kicked them into a 6-0 lead, but Leinster hit back with a team try to remember as they went through 21 phases, with 12 players touching the ball, before Madigan found Kearney, who stepped inside Sean Maitland's shoot-up to put Kirchner over.

The big Springbok turned provider before half-time as he took Gopperth's clever inside ball, handed Moray Low off and drew Peter Murchie to send Shane Jennings over but Russell, aided by a strong wind at his back, kept the Warriors in touch as Leinster led 14-12 at the break.

The occasion may not have gotten to the Scots, but the heat and tempo did and they emptied their bench early, which took the sting out of its impact.

With Cian Healy having been harshly denied a try by Nigel Owens for a phantom double movement after he reviewed the footage, the game turned in the frantic 57th minute when Niko Matawalu dived for the line in a bid to give his side the lead.

He was met with such force by McFadden that he knocked the ball on and knowing they had advantage on their side, Leinster broke from behind their own line through Gopperth, with support from Cronin and Kirchner.

Although the try didn't come, a Marty Moore-won scrum penalty allowed the Kiwi to extend the lead before he made it a two-score game after Low came in from the side.

With Glasgow chasing, Leinster were able to pick them off, with Madigan brilliantly ripping the ball from Leone Nakarawa's grasp to begin a move that saw Heaslip feed D'Arcy, who executed a perfect switch to put Kirchner over.

He returned the compliment before full-time to send the bearded centre over for a fourth try to finish the job before Gopperth converted and Cullen lifted the trophy.

That fed Leinster's addiction to silverware for another season and cemented their place as the best team in the league and probably Britain and Ireland.

Over in France, Europe's finest outfit were celebrating an unprecedented double. Toulon are the standard bearers now and Leinster's challenge is to reach their level.

They'll have to do it without O'Driscoll and Cullen as well as coaches Jono Gibbes and Greg Feek, but they have coped with loss before and believe their 'culture' is strong enough to endure the absence of these individual blows.

Winning another trophy in such a transitional season suggested they might be right. Time moves on, but Leinster are refusing to give in and let their era end.

Leinster – R Kearney (D Fanning 78); F McFadden, B O'Driscoll (I Madigan 8), G D'Arcy, Z Kirchner; J Gopperth, E Reddan (I Boss 78); C Healy (J McGrath 67), S Cronin (A Dundon 75), M Ross (M Moore 50); D Toner, M McCarthy (L Cullen 60); R Ruddock, S Jennings (S O'Brien 55), J Heaslip (capt).

Glasgow Warriors – P Murchie; S Maitland, A Dunbar (S Lamont 55), P Horne (R Jackson 39-h-t); T Seymour, F Russell (R Jackson 68); C Cusiter (N Matawalu 45); G Reid (R Grant 46), D Hall (P MacArthur 25), J Welsh (M Low 55); J Gray, A Kellock (capt, T Swinson 50); R Harley, C Fusaro (L Nakarawa 26), J Strauss.

Referee – N Owens (capt).

 

Leinster player ratings

Rob Kearney - Kicked one dead, but other than that it was hard to fault the Ireland full-back, who seemed to be carrying a knock into the game - 7

Fergus McFadden - The ball broke the opposite wing's way more frequently, but McFadden's huge work ethic is hard to fault. Hits hard and carries the same way - 7

Brian O'Driscoll - The long goodbye came to an abrupt end after eight minutes as the great man's calf finally gave up - 5

Gordon D'Arcy - Future looks increasingly at outside rather than inside-centre – at No 13, he got greater space to attack and capped the day with a fine try - 7

Zane Kirchner - The Springbok has looked a little lost in his first season with Leinster, but this was a reminder of his abilities. Took his two tries well, and his execution in creating the others was even more impressive - 9

Jimmy Gopperth - Fought hard to win the battle for the No 10 shirt and, for the second successive game, looked a real threat with ball in hand while kicking reliably - 8

Eoin Reddan - Caused Glasgow a host of problems with his ability to break, and provided Gopperth with a perfect platform from which to play - 8

Cian Healy - Quieter than usual, but the world's best loosehead was still just a strange refereeing decision away from a try. Deserves his summer off after an outstanding season - 7

Seán Cronin - The hard track suits the Limerick man, who must be the quickest forward in Irish rugby. He could give some of the backs a race too, a fine finish to his best season yet - 8

Mike Ross - Gave away two penalties which led to scores, albeit not knowing much about the first, but performed his primary roles as well as always - 6

Devin Toner - Not quite the devastating impact he had in the semi-final, but the big man's ball carrying is now laced with menace, while his lineout work is exemplary - 7

Mike McCarthy - Back after injury with a bang, the second-row was a physically dominant character for Leinster, even if Jonny Beattie was the outstanding second-row on display - 7

Rhys Ruddock - Possesses an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, while carrying and tackling like a demon. A huge contributor to Leinster's season - 7

Shane Jennings - Classic openside play to pop up on the winger's shoulder for his try, while his work in the tackle and on the ground was strong - 7

Jamie Heaslip - Outplayed Glasgow's best player in Josh Strauss by doing the simple things well and showing footwork with ball in hand that almost always beats the first tackler - 8

Bench

Ian Madigan (8) made a huge impact after his early introduction, increasing the tempo. Marty Moore (7) made a big impression in the loose, while Seán O'Brien (6), Leo Cullen (6) and Jack McGrath (6) helped keep the pressure on when they came on. Isaac Boss, Aaron Dundon and Darragh Fanning were not on long enough to rate.

Matt O'Connor - The coach has been slated for his team's style, but they came good at the right time. Keeping Glasgow scoreless for the entire second half is no mean feat, while the backline play with Madigan at inside-centre could point the way forward - 8

Glasgow Warriors

P Murchie 6; S Maitland 5, A Dunbar 5 (S Lamont 6, 55), P Horne 6 (R Jackson 39-h-t); T Seymour 6, F Russell 7 (R Jackson 6, 68); C Cusiter 6 (N Matawalu 5, 45); G Reid 6 (R Grant 6, 46), D Hall 5 (P MacArthur 25), J Welsh 6 (M Low 5, 55); J Gray 8, A Kellock 7 (capt), T Swinson (6, 50); R Harley 7, C Fusaro 6 (L Nakarawa 7, 26), J Strauss 7.

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