Friday 24 May 2019

Billy Keane: 'Walk tall Leinster. We admire you even more now. This game wasn't lost for want of courage'

11 May 2019; Leinster players look on during the presentation after the Heineken Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Saracens at St James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
11 May 2019; Leinster players look on during the presentation after the Heineken Champions Cup Final match between Leinster and Saracens at St James' Park in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sexton: His troops just came up short. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Leinster gave their all. We can ask no more. In the end Saracens won by 10 and Leinster had to defend like the heroes they are to keep it at that.

There are excuses. The referee Jerome Garces was very poor; Billy Vunipola spent so much time on the Leinster side he could have qualified for a vote in the local elections.

It wasn't all Garces' fault. The touch judging of Romain Poite was awful. He missed the offsides and a blatant knock-on by Liam Williams at a crucial stage.

Before the game, on the waterfront, we overheard a girl say: "Durham crashed right into us and they did nothing about it."

She was a rower and was in tears after the Boat Race of the North on the Tyne. Leinster will say much the same thing to referee chief Joel Jutge from France.

But the best team won. Does that make any sense?

Saracens played with an intensity that was dervish and devilish in equal measure. The soccer pitch of St James' Park was narrow and that suited Saracens. The dead-ball line was a tablecloth and there were no wings.

And, yes, Billy Vunipola was unstoppable. He was booed when he came into the ground, and he was booed when he came off.

I wouldn't argue with that. This was another Irish club registering their disapproval of a homophobe. We are at last a country who cherish and back up our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Yes Billy might be a homophobe, but he is some rugby player. Billy shouldn't have been playing in the final if Saracens and English rugby did the right thing. Those twin expediencies of power and money overrode morality, a subject on which Billy Vunipola claims to be an expert.

Billy agreed with his mate Israel Folau. Their view is homosexuals should give up their oul gayness or face eternal damnation.

The good people of Newcastle were full of their fun and were firmly rooted in the present. Forget the Geordie Shore cliches of half- naked, half-eejits talking gibberish to each other. This is a fine old town with a vibrant centre.

Newcastle has an opera house and the theatre thrives. The city's waterfront rivals anywhere and we saw a bridge break in two to let a boat through only to miraculously reassemble itself again.

The Geordies are lovely people. The kind of folk who walk along the way with you when you are lost to make sure you are found. There was no trouble on the streets. The beer wasn't dear and the food was fairly priced.

We visited a pub called Yolo on Friday night. It's just down the street from Pleased to Meet You. Yolo stands for You Only Live Once.

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The pub is manned and womanned by the older Geordies There was Motown music, and the women danced like no one was watching.

Leinster played YOLO rugby. They really did. Rob Kearney is a big-game player powered by an intuitive rugby brain and the heart of a Lion. His palms are made from Velcro and Kearney never takes his eye of the ball. Kearney's break in the first-half brought Leinster back into the game just as Saracens were about to grind them down with that relentless running, driving and pressure.

Tadhg Furlong is another Lion who did all he could and more. When Furlong came off it was as if Leinster's shield was gone and like all brave men he died on his shield.

Jonathan Sexton had a few blips, but as ever he wore his heart on his sleeves. His kicks were 10 metres longer than anyone else and his captaincy calls were spot on. Jonathan never missed a tackle and when Jerome lost his bearings the captain barely raised his voice, because Jerome would have been even worse than the worse he already was.

Impacts

Devin Toner is greatly undervalued. He has improved his physicality and the impacts in the collisions were dominant. The lineout was solid for the most part. You couldn't really find fault with any of the Leinster players.

In the end Saracens were just too big. I saw them come off the bus in Coventry before the Munster game and I didn't know men came in that size. Big Leinster lads looked small beside them and they are very skilful, even if serial offender Maro Itoje did all in his power to get sent off, but there was no danger of that.

I met with Michael Corcoran, the voice of rugby, here in the press room under St James' Park.

"Billy, Saracens are better than England," he told me. And it is true. Money talks but Saracens are a superb rugby team. The likelihood is any team who want to prosper at the highest level from now on need a big budget.

Walk tall Leinster. We admire you even more now. This game wasn't lost for want of courage.

No other team would have run Saracens so close. Leinster went out like the champions they are and always will be.

Irish Independent

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