Tuesday 21 August 2018

Leinster Bilbao bound as Munster plot Bordeaux siege

Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates with teammates after victory over Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton of Leinster celebrates with teammates after victory over Scarlets. Photo: Sportsfile

Wayne O'Connor and Jerome Reilly

Could this be Irish rugby's greatest year ever?

A Six Nations Championship and Grand Slam already in the locker and yesterday Leinster marched imperiously into the Champions Cup final as they steam-rolled Scarlets at the Aviva.

All that's required now is that Munster beat Racing 92 in even hotter conditions in Bordeaux today to set up an All-Ireland final in European Rugby's blue riband competition.

Leinster are already on their way to Bilbao after Jonathan Sexton delivered the killer blow that fittingly had all the cold precision of a bullfighter delivering the coup de grace.

He dashed through a gap in the Scarlets line to claim his 11th try in the European Cup and nonchalantly knocked over the conversion. He was replaced straight away - but his work had been done.

First-half tries by James Ryan, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden had laid the foundation and while the raucous Scarlets faithful did their best to rouse the visitors in the early stages of the second half, a Scott Fardy try put paid to any lingering hopes of a comeback.

Munster fans including Anne Marie O’Flynn and sisters Maria and Siobhan Houlihan enjoy the Bordeaux sunshine
Munster fans including Anne Marie O’Flynn and sisters Maria and Siobhan Houlihan enjoy the Bordeaux sunshine

It was an Irishman, Tadhg Beirne, who delivered a degree of consolation for the men in red with a late try. Scott Fardy was named Man of the Match and few among the 48,000 crowd would have disagreed. He was relentless. Of course over in Bordeaux, Leinster were only a blip on the radar of Munster supporters yesterday as they arrived ahead of the Red Army's clash today with Parisian side Racing 92.

Chartered flights from Cork, Shannon and Dublin touched down in the French wine region ahead of the match with thousands more expected to arrive today before kick off.

Temperatures are hot, with the mercury rising above 25 degrees yesterday and it is expected to stay warm today.

Most stayed clear of the local vineyards, instead favouring the city's terrace bars and coffee shops as they attempted to stay cool.

Travel uncertainty caused by seven days of strike action by French rail workers this month, including two days last week, means many locals expect Munster fans to outnumber their French rivals at the Stade Chaban-Delmas.

Upwards of 10,000 travelling Irish supporters are expected to make the journey. Dee Fitzgibbon and her husband Joe, both from Thurles, were among those to arrive yesterday.

They made the journey from Dublin to Birmingham last Friday before getting a connection to Bordeaux yesterday morning.

They are confident of a Munster win.

"You have to be," said Dee. "There is a great camaraderie with the Racing fans because we play each other so often.

"Obviously we were due to play them when (former Munster coach) Anthony Foley passed away before the game last year and they were great to us then, but we still want to beat them. It would be great to get to another final."

Dee was keen to see Leinster win yesterday so her weekend got off to a great start.

Meanwhile Aer Lingus have announced extra flights to Bilbao, Spain, for the finals on May 12 - offering 546 round trip journeys for fans. The extra planes will travel on Friday (one), Saturday (two flights) and one on Sunday.

Sunday Independent

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