Monday 11 December 2017

Aviva thrills to fearlessness of Leinster youth

Leinster 32-17 Wasps

Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring his side's third try alongside Luke McGrath Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring his side's third try alongside Luke McGrath Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Liza Minneli told us life is a cabaret. Sport is the true cabaret, me old segotia; where we escape from life a while.

50,266 souls, presumably all afflicted with either minor or major bothers, deposited all travails at the stiles in exchange for a ticket; their bountiful reward two hours of escapism that, momentarily at least, evicted all strain.

Leinster's Isa Nacewa attempts to pass Christian Wade of Wasps Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Leinster's Isa Nacewa attempts to pass Christian Wade of Wasps Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Leinster had serious business to attend to, with significant financial stakes at play, yet they did so with smiling faces, swinging hips and skipping hearts; their worries and cares were burdens so weightless they were like air in a plastic bag.


"We want to play with attacking intent," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen. "Obviously with that there comes an element of risk, but we want players to express themselves.

"Go out and enjoy when they're playing in front of 50,000 people, that have turned up and paid good money to be here, which is an amazing thing really. The players want to produce moments, and I thought they did a lot."

Leinster's Robbie Henshaw goes scores his side's third try Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Robbie Henshaw goes scores his side's third try Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The ruthless professionalism and cold, heartless Monday morning reality of those interminably grisly video reviews will pour a concrete cover upon the green sward where rugby's spirit soared on Saturday.

Perhaps it must; this was not a performance that will win a Champions Cup but it was one that signified a renewal of this sleeping giant and one backboned by a thrilling mix of the fearlessly young and the fearsomely ageing.

For sure, there was a bounty of errors; the lineout was appalling, at times; Joey Carbery swaggered but he staggered too.

The intention was key; Stuart Lancaster told us "Leinster are different from Ireland"; this was the evidence writ large, with Seán O'Brien re-discovering space and the ball, Robbie Henshaw clambering around brick walls rather than rushing headlong into them.

Wasps were poor for much of the piece too, in mitigation, but then Leinster's wonderful back-row, exemplified by more selection bravery, snuffed out their threat. But this was more than an exercise in mere suffocation.

This was an execution of shock and awe; from the opening Adam Byrne re-start reception and run, the liberated Henshaw offloaded the ball twice; O'Brien added another while both men carried from wide midfield berths too.

Tadhg Furlong flung a pass from scrum-half; all in the first minute! Such were Furlong's dizzying display of disciplines, from flicking ball off the floor to deft skip passes, it was a wonder he didn't find time to pull half-time pints in the Premium Bar.

Effervescence, it appears, is wonderfully addictive. Unlike Wasps, for whom it took a half-hour to go beyond three phases, Leinster still had to apply physical force to unleash their beauty.

"It was just playing with intent and trying to manage the collisions on our terms," added Cullen. "Just keep the ball alive. That's something we've focused on a lot in pre-season.

"You need to be brave as well coming into these big games. We'll certainly need to be brave when we play our semi-final in France."

Bravery begins with leadership intent and it coursed through this week's selection calls; the absence of Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip could have counselled caution; instead it prompted positivity.

"It was pleasing for those guys. They have gone well. I'm harping on about this again but they have been going well since pre-season. They deserved to play and it was good to see them perform on a big stage. 50,000 people, it was amazing, wasn't it?"

Leinster were loose throughout, lax at times, and had Willie le Roux replaced self-indulgence for self-awareness and punished Carbery's error with a try, the plot could have thickened earlier than it did.


The Springbok's swan-dive was entertaining, too, but merely as a pratfall.

"We're not here to force things and to entertain," moaned Dai Young, surveying the entire exercise. They could - and should - have been able to entertain and win were it not for his second point. "We need to be far more astute at doing the basics well."

Instead, his side coughed up two tries from a poor clearance and a poorer driving maul; there's a difference between opportunity and opportunism.

When Leinster did wobble, after a glut of replacements struggled to cohere and Wasps hit them on the double, they restored calm by deploying one-out runners for a spell.

Until, of course, Dan Leavy couldn't help himself, offloaded, and suddenly Leinster were off again, seizing matters by their scruff and gambolling for the tape.

"You are all the time trying to get the balance but you don't want to knock too much out of them," appreciates Cullen.

"It's more just about understanding the context of games, where are we on the field. It's just trying to get that balance. As they get mature they get a greater appreciation of the bigger picture and how the game unfolds.

"There's a lot of really smart kids in there. They shock me, to be honest. Those 21-, 22-, 23-year-olds, they're very level-headed and they are very pragmatic the way the review their own performances.

"I think back to how disappointed some of them were with their performances in Castres, even though we drew the game; they were gutted."

And now, after this freedom to make mistakes and yet not be afraid to make another one, nothing may faze them.

"I hope not but it's always daunting going to France so we need to understand the challenge they will pose," said Cullen, age sagely granting him the ability to cast an eye ahead.

"Hopefully we'll get a good chunk of that 50,000 who might make the trip so we won't be outdone!"

Leinster - J Carbery (Z Kirchner 79); A Byrne (F McFadden 22) G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); J McGrath (C Healy 52), R Strauss (J Tracy 55), T Furlong (M Bent 66), D Toner, H Triggs (R Molony 59), D Leavy (J van der Flier 16-22, blood), S O'Brien (J van der Flier 67), J Conan.

Wasps - K Beale; C Wade, E Daly, J Gopperth, W le Roux; D Cipriani (A Leiua 55), D Robson (J Simpson 50); M Mullan (S McIntyre 58), T Taylor J Cooper-Woolley (M Moore 50; J Cooper-Woolley 77), J Launchbury (capt), K Myall (M Symons 50), J Haskell, T Young (A Johnson 50), N Hughes (A Rieder 77).

Ref - N Owens (WRU)

Irish Independent

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