Friday 19 January 2018

All Blacks of Europe underline their utter superiority

The continent has not seen anything like this flawless Leinster side, says Eamonn Sweeney

It's official now. Leinster are the greatest. Yesterday the finest team ever to play club rugby in Europe confirmed their status for the record books.

They are the first team to win three Heineken Cups in four years. Leicester are the only other team to win two on the trot, in 2001 and 2002, Toulouse made three finals in a row between 2003 and 2005 and won two of them, while the Munster side which won in 2006 and 2008 also has its partisans. But this Leinster team are not only better than all of those wonderful outfits, this season they'd probably have beaten the pick of them.

Their undefeated run in the competition over the last two years is a record. Their points total of 42 in yesterday's final easily supplanted the previous record of 34 scored by Leicester against Stade Francais in 2001, while their winning margin of 28 points dwarfed the 19 points which separated Brive and Leicester all the way back in 1997. Quite simply there has been nothing like this Leinster team in European rugby previously, and this final display was the perfect consummation of a nigh-on flawless campaign.

And if the old Leinster-Munster argument has now been put conclusively to bed, Munster fans can take consolation in the fact that so have the old Leinster-Toulouse and Leinster-Leicester arguments. Leinster are a team of such extraordinary power, poise and accomplishment that they would easily have won this year's Six Nations Championships. It's also unlikely that even the best club sides from the southern hemisphere would have challenged them this year. Not only should next year's Ireland team be built on a Leinster foundation, so should the Lions squad to tour Australia in 2013.

To be honest the cup was won against Clermont Auvergne in the semi-final, and all the pious pre-match protestations to the contrary can't hide the fact that everyone knew the result of this game a long time ago.

Ulster were like nothing so much as an outgunned Ireland team being gradually ground down and then taken apart by the All Blacks.

Because when it comes to European club rugby, Leinster are the All Blacks and this season they have reached a pitch of perfection.

It was billed as an All-Ireland final but it resembled the kind of hurling final where Kilkenny take on Waterford or Limerick, or the kind of football final where Mayo take on anyone.

Ulster weren't helped by the fact that for the first 40 odd minutes it looked as though one of those pre-match pranksters who like to sneak into team photos had stayed on the pitch and played out-half for them. But Leinster weren't in the humour to brook any resistance whatsoever. Dan Tuohy's second-half try gave Ulster a very brief glimmer of hope but its actual effect was to encourage Leinster to move remorselessly through the phases and immediately slap their rivals down. There was room for only one set of stars on this stage.

Sean O'Brien was back to the all-conquering force of two years ago, Rob Kearney looked once more like the man who lit up the Lions tour to South Africa, Jonny Sexton was peerless at out-half, Cian Healy was colossal and Brian O'Driscoll was simply Brian O'Driscoll.

But, magnificent as the parts are, what impressed most was the collective will of a team apparently determined to write its name indelibly in the history books. We have not seen their like before and we may not see it again for a very long time.

The greatest. Officially.

Sunday Indo Sport

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