Friday 27 April 2018

D'arcy refrains from lap of honour after bruising encounter

When professor Arthur Tanner entered Leinster's medical room at 11.0 yesterday morning, he encountered the bruised and bloodied aftermath of a sporting Passchendaele.

On Saturday, the new old stadium never seemed so aptly monikered; health insurance was as much a pre-requisite as immense bravery and courage.

The battered bodies beneath the good doctor's beady inspection yesterday betrayed a contest of violent intensity, once again solidly affirming that Heineken Cup rugby refreshes the parts the Six Nations just can't reach.

Whether it was Brian O'Driscoll's nose dripping claret like some fantastic faucet or Gordon D'Arcy having his shoulder almost permanently re-arranged, Joe Schmidt's side put bodies on the line with an almost nonchalant disregard for personal safety.

Richardt Strauss, the soon to be Irishman imported from Bloemfontein, propagated the cause of astute assimilation with a quite thunderous display of carrying and a gargantuan tackle count.

As much as the body blows will have hurt Leinster yesterday morning, though, the satisfied relief that coursed through their veins will have worked as a soothing balm; albeit there was no exultation at this premature stage of the season.

"No, it's hard to celebrate," admitted Gordon D'Arcy, the supreme midfield dancer with the devilish tackle.

"You win a match but I think Leinster five, six or seven years ago might have been doing a lap of honour and going, 'yay, brilliant' and 'this is the best thing ever,' whereas now it's like, 'right, we've won a game but we've Ulster next week and we want to stay in the hunt in the Magners League, we want to win this Heineken Cup.'

"That wasn't our final today. That's a big thing we've learned from playing over the years -- whereas you get big wins, the next win is going to have to be bigger."

His side's contented reflections stood in stark contrast to those of the wounded Tigers.

For this proud club the scars will run deep, especially for Toby Flood, missing a penalty from exactly the same spot at near enough the same juncture of another English expiration three weeks ago, not to mention his ludicrously over-hyped half-back cohort.

Fittingly, given their status in the world game, Leicester would never succumb easily, despite the incremental lesions being inflicted upon them. It is now a measure of Leinster's determination to succeed their victims as European stalwarts which ensured that they ultimately prevailed.

That much was visible in so many facets of Leinster's play, whether vivaciously expressed by Isa Nacewa or else so determinedly and forcibly by an unsung hero like Kevin McLaughlin.

But in microcosm, one could see it in Sean O'Brien's limitless yearning to extract every last ounce of energy from his being to corner flag the humongous heft of Alesana Tuilagi early in the second half when Leicester's pomp was at its brief zenith.

For all the karmic intervention of a try that should have been disallowed -- unlike Cardiff last month, the assistant referee's non-intervention here was fortuitous -- without O'Brien's timely intrusion six minutes earlier, this script may have lurched in an entirely different direction.


"I suppose they're the type of things that maybe change a game," averred the Tullow titan. "We went back up and we scored after that so I think we did a good job."

D'Arcy supplemented his own tribute yet, typically for this team, sprinkled some regret that his side hadn't capitalised on the numerous first-half line breaks that may have rendered their passage a much smoother one.

"Yeah, that's the winning and losing of games right there," he said. "That's one try that they nearly scored. But we had that drive that was called for the truck and trailer. I'd love to have a look at that, that'll be pretty close.

"And there were probably about two or three inside balls that got knocked on that were almost clear run-ins. You could say that we had a moment where we worked hard, got back and got Tuilagi into the corner but they were all hands on deck for two or three occasions in the first half as well."

Leinster, however, did not allow those little laments -- "we butchered a few tries," noted D'Arcy candidly -- to construct a burden; Leicester's indomitable spirit would always act as a buffer against that.

"Just keep doing what you're doing," was D'Arcy's report of the calm communique at half-time. "Keep going, converting those line breaks. We kind of felt when we were making those line breaks that the ball was being very, very slow.

"Nigel Owens had actually said to both teams that on line breaks he was going to be watching that ruck so we knew if we got a few more line breaks we'd be able to push in behind and we did: Straussy in the second half, when we had a good run and we got in behind them, the quick ball and we almost scored.

"We've got to take a lot of heart from when we showed the endeavour to attack."

Much of which flowed through Nacewa. Even his illegalities -- the forward pass for the try, a kick to touch from the '22' whitewash -- seemed fated to be ignored.

When he knocked on in the first half, some of us scribbled furiously for none of us could recall his last error.

"Probably the biggest compliment I can give him is that in training when he is running I sometimes get caught looking at him," offered an admiring D'Arcy. "He's just moving and he's bouncing and he's just through the gap.

"You kind of forget to run your support line because you're looking at him going, 'aw, that's brilliant.' Then you realise he's left you for dead and you should be in the support line.

"He makes it look easy and he makes it look like he has time on the ball.

"They always say that about great soccer players, that they always look like they have time on the ball.

"Isa just looks like he has time on the ball all the time. He just creates space, whether it's just shifting the ball to the left, someone has a little thing and then he has a go. We're convinced it has something to do with the hair, the wave!"

Nacewa is the best player in the continent right now. In a little over a month, his colleagues can confirm that they are its best team.

Irish Independent

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