independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Smiles of success all round as Schmidt savours win

Leinster’s Jonny Sexton is lifted by Dave Carney (left), Devin Toner and Brian O’Driscoll

THE giant smile that lit up the face of Joe Schmidt told its own story – this was a very special victory to savour.

His Boys in Blue had orchestrated a much-needed and timely win, against a spirited and determined Ulster side.

But it wasn't just the end of a season – it was the end of an era.

It was also a Leinster victory, fashioned in their sun-drenched RDS fortress, which sent Schmidt on his journey to the hottest seat in Irish rugby, that of national team boss, with a certain style and panache.

Leinster talisman, and super-cool place kicker, Jonathan Sexton, is also embarking on a new adventure.

Next season he will be plying his trade in the bearpit that is French club rugby.

And the capacity crowd reserved a special cheer for Isa Nacewa, who leaves the province for New Zealand.

The familiar chant of "Isa, Isa" filled the Ballsbridge air for the final time as the faithful saluted a man who arguably became Ireland's greatest-ever rugby import.

Claiming the league crown would have had a special resonance for all three departing men.

Leinster have claimed the Heineken Cup three times in five seasons – although this year they had to settle for the second-tier Amlin title.

However, the league title has eluded them during that period, despite three league finals.

No wonder the outgoing Schmidt looked absolutely delighted with himself, his side having ground down their Ulster rivals on a score 24-18.

Thoughts of the upcoming Lions tour inevitably provided a backdrop to this fiercely fought encounter.

At the end of it all, Schmidt was thrown in the air by his players.

It was an apt acknowledgement of the unparalleled success he has brought Leinster over the past few years – while he also built a team which will give us many more blue magic moments.

But now thoughts turn to those Irish players who will be lucky enough to wear that iconic red jersey this summer.

Bring on the Lions. Bring on the Aussies.

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