Sport Rugby

Saturday 10 December 2016

Leinster will need to unleash dog within

Published 09/04/2011 | 09:22

This is a true story. A man from around here got sick of his small dog. Rex barked a lot at night and the licence was due.

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The dog owner waited until the potatoes were all eaten and then he put a big stone in the cloth sack. His owner placed Rex carefully in the potato bag and tied the top tightly with a rope. The dog lover threw the bag into a deep pool in the river Feale.

Some say Rex bit his way through the rough cloth. More -- and I would be one of them -- maintain it would have taken too long to gnaw away at the wet hemp bag. More again say there was a hole in the bag. As in any small place, you have the begrudgers who maintain that Rex was never put in the sack in the first place. In truth, only the fish and Rex know what really happened.

Dripping little Rex reported at the door of his old home. His arc-less cut of stump of a tail wagged excitedly in the one spot, neither over or back, like a grandfather clock without a pendulum. The dog disposer was stunned to see Rex. He was a fair man, by his own reckoning. "Rex you are spared," he declared. "Henceforth you will be known as Houdini."

Rex was famous in our place after that. His owner died not long after the escape when he forgot to breathe. Some of us felt rabies would have been a more appropriate entry in the 'cause of passing' box on his death cert.

I have been waiting to tell you Rex's story for some time now but could not find the appropriate link. In this game if you can't link, you're no use. If you haven't a link, a moral will do nicely. The moral of Rex's true-life escape is, you have to earn respect.

Leinster temporarily lost respect for Munster last Saturday and they paid a price. Leinster felt they had the game won what with being 11 points up and heading for six-in-a-row against their fiercest rivals.

It was only a question of keeping up the standard for the second half. Munster let rip in a reminder that a passion play is about redemption through resurrection. A battered O'Gara, an eye as purple and swollen as a genetically modified plum, kicked the winning penalty from the far out curtilage of the touchline with the silent breath of the crowd warming the back of his neck and the cockles of his heart.

Munster rediscovered the Munster within. And Leinster?

Leinster played very well and they learned a lesson for what will be their hardest Heineken Cup game of the season. If Leinster win against the Tigers this evening, they can take the trophy for the second time.

Munster did Leinster a big favour last week. The game was played as if it was the final of a World Cup, but to use an old GAA saying, it was still only the league. Maybe Leinster were somehow subconsciously sparing themselves for today. Now they know there can be no time-outs while the ball is still in play.

Leinster earned respect the hard way. Time was when they had a support base that ended at the Red Cow. They had to win over their own fans.

These were the GAA supporters who also followed rugby as a much-loved second sport. They had more in common in terms of environment and heritage with their Munster neighbours. Munster played with such courage and honour they rewrote history and charted new borders.

Ian Dowling is a Cat and when he signed for Munster he took most of Kilkenny with him. Ian announced his retirement this week at only 28. Dowling won two Heineken Cups and two Irish caps. He will be remembered for his strength and determination, particularly when he was in close to either try line.

There were days when Ian obliterated faster French wingers with raw power, courage and an uncanny ability to read overlaps. Dowling was the best man I ever saw to turn a three-man opposition attack into a one-on-one.

He left his wing unguarded to come infield and smothered man and ball before the play moved on to the loose player on the wing waiting for the easy run-in. Thank you Ian. The very best of luck to you.

Brian O' Driscoll's bottle was a defining factor. He would stick his head and hands into a pit of cobras. Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings returned from Leicester and brought home the desire to do better even when you have done better.

That fosterage came back to haunt Leicester on the day Leinster won the Heineken Cup final and finally convinced their province that this was a team worth following. The story goes on. No one doubts their courage now.

Respect in sport is built up over years but can disappear in a single play. Leicester have earned respect through the club ethos where hard work and devotion to the community are paramount.

This is in direct contrast to Toulon, whose mouthy owner seeks to buy success. It would be a tragedy for rugby if ego and the acquisition of trophy teams were to triumph over love of place and jersey.

It is that love of who they are and where they come from that has made Leicester the most successful English club of the last 15 years. Their style is to win up front and then when your opponent's infantry are bedraggled, you let loose the cavalry.

Leicester may not, as the reports suggest, take Leinster on up front early on. Joe Schmidt's troops may run the ball a lot sooner than we think.

They have picked a very mobile side. This may suit Leinster but the home team have had only one decent game as a unit for over two months. Such is the Heineken Cup and you just have to get over the gap.

I have a feeling Luke Fitzgerald will score a try. He was heavily criticised after the Six Nations. I often think a licensing system should be brought in for pundits. It's high time the industry was regulated. Not that Luke needs the likes of me to mind him.

CRACKING

This will be a cracking contest. It could go either way. I hope Leinster do it but the Premiership's top teams have always been difficult to beat. Leinster will win if they are still as hungry as they were two years ago.

The downside of earning respect the hard way, as Leinster have done, is deep in the brain drip-drip thoughts tell you, 'hey you've won this already'.

Think of how few teams have won back-to-back football All-Irelands.

Leinster have home advantage. 50,000 will pack the Aviva which, by the way, has 1,000 yards of beer lines.

Leinster matches are raucous affairs these days. Jerseys, flags and banners everywhere and loads of youngsters without any sense of self-consciousness. Leinster are a proper rugby club now. The prim are vastly outnumbered.

This one's hard to call. Leicester have beaten Munster and Leinster over here. They have lethal half-backs, and that scrum will attack Leinster. Not so sure about their line-out though.

Leinster were lucky Munster beat them last week. Now they know games last 80 minutes. Now they have been reminded of what it takes to beat a top team in a big game. That wake-up call might just see them through.

It would be patently unfair and unprofessional to take our leave without telling you what became of Rex the Escapologist.

Nothing much really, which makes the story of his miraculous escape from the Feale all the more remarkable.

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