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Leinster best equipped to go all the way

THE Irish provinces are all in with a shout of reaching the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup.

None of their opponents will frighten them at this stage.

Leinster could well have the toughest task away to Toulon but despite Ulster's heroics, I feel the Blues are still the best equipped to go all the way.

In the end it was somewhat facile for Matt O'Connor's side in the RDS on Friday night. However, if Ian Evans had managed to avoid his moment of madness then Leinster's path to the quarter-final could have been a much higher mountain to climb.

As always, the Ospreys looked unfazed by their opponents in the early stages. It suggested that they were not going to go quietly out of this competition.

Leinster will be relieved that the unfortunate set of circumstances which led them to have to play two games in five days did not translate into a negative result.

Instead they were handed a lifeline and the whole psychology of the game changed. From the moment Evans left the pitch the atmosphere around the ground had the air of inevitability about it.

It's a tough sport and often tempers are frayed. However, despite the testosterone levels on the field, I am always aghast when someone takes what is ultimately a war of attrition to another level. Everyone on the pitch knows that they must exercise a sense of control, despite the occasional temptations to lash out in anger. The accepted rule between opponents in an honourable sport is that all involved stay within the boundaries.

Violence

When those boundaries are crossed the players themselves react in a similar way to the supporters, I always found I reacted the same way whether watching or playing upon witnessing violence.

When I was on the pitch i immediately detached from the fray as I watched someone cross the line. You know that someone has breached that threshold and it reminds you about the physical nature and dangers of the sport you are in.

Strangely enough the Ospreys galvanised themselves in the aftermath of Evans' dismissal until Leinster broke through their defence towards the end of the first half.

Gopperth, Fitzgerald and in particular Cian Healy would eventually provide enough spark to give Leinster the edge. It's no coincidence that all three players have had less game time of late than most of their team-mates and it was no surprise that they provided the platform for Leinster.

Healy played like a man possessed. For Joe Schmidt the timing of Healy's return is one of the positives heading in to the Six Nations. Seán O'Brien's commitment to Ireland for the next few seasons has also provided a timely boost. Ireland may not see him on the pitch for a few months, but everyone would have been relieved by his signature. A stint on the sidelines will do him no harm.

O'Brien will have his time in France if he wants it in the years to come. He is still only 26 and it would have been too soon for him to throw himself into a situation that would only curtail his longevity.

On the other hand it has probably put Toulon in a stronger position to sign Jamie Heaslip. I was also heartened to see the return of Richardt Strauss. Along with Rory Best, these are two miraculous recoveries. It shores up an area that was beginning to become a major worry for Ireland.


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