Leinster prove they are team for all seasons
Waking up in Bilbao on Saturday morning, it’s likely that Racing 92 were the happier of the two teams to see the forecast deluge arrive right on cue.
The French side would have fancied their chances of taking on Leinster up front, and while they posses plenty of firepower in their backline, their best chance of causing an upset was to keep it tight and go wide at the right times, although they were dealt a major blow to that plan when their orchestrator Maxime Machenaud was ruled out.
Leinster were happy to match Racing’s physicality up front.
We know what this Blues backline is capable of when they click, and while this final won’t live long in the memory, it proved that Leinster are capable of mixing their game-plan to suit both the opposition and the conditions.
In the quarter and semi-finals, they cut loose to devastating effect, and here, any lingering doubts as to whether this new breed had the stomach for the fight when the going got tough were firmly put to bed.
Despite the narrow margin of victory, you never really felt that Racing were going to beat Leinster, and that is largely down to this fearless machine that Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have moulded.
The ripple effect that Ireland’s Grand Slam triumph has had cannot be understated, and the winning culture in this Leinster squad is such that they could dominate Europe in the coming years.
Remaining top of the tree is not an easy task, but Leinster have already successfully defended their European title back in 2012.
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This is a new crop, and led by the likes of James Ryan, who has now won all 21 of his professional games, and the outstanding Dan Leavy, the province are in safe hands.
With a maestro like Johnny Sexton pulling the strings, and Leinster’s adaptability, they could be on the verge of another golden era.
Larmour’s dream season hits new heights
Just before the Champions Cup final kicked off, Leinster ‘A’ were beaten by Ealing Trailfinders in the British and Irish Cup decider.
Had Jordan Larmour just stuck with his main goal from the start of the season, he would have been in London and not Bilbao. But this is the season that keeps on giving for the electric youngster.
It’s worth pondering what you were doing at 20, and then compare it to what Larmour has already achieved with a couple of weeks of the campaign still left to play.
This season, the former St Andrew’s student has made his senior Leinster debut, Ireland debut, won a Triple Crown, Grand Slam and a Champions Cup. You wouldn’t back against him adding a Guinness PRO14 title to that staggering list.
When Larmour sat down at the start of the season, he wanted to break into the Leinster ‘A’ team. Walking up to collect his winner’s medal at the San Mames must have been beyond his wildest dreams.
The difficult conditions didn’t allow Larmour to flourish in attack, and with James Lowe to come back into the equation against Munster this weekend, he faces a tough task to keep his place.
The way his debut season has gone, however, Larmour’s self-belief will be such that he will think that he can finish it with yet another winner’s medal.
Racing will challenge in Europe again
You don’t get to two Champions Cup finals in three years unless you are a quality team, and Racing are certainly that.
To cope as well as they did with the repeated key injury setbacks was admirable but that won’t be much of a consolation now.
Having not been named in the initial 23, Remi Tales won’t have run many, if any, reps as the starting out-half in training last week.
Teddy Iribaren was a joy to watch but any team in the world would miss a player of Machenaud’s quality, given the mercurial scrum-half’s form before he picked up that nasty knee injury.
In Camille Chat, they have a 22-year-old hooker who they could build their pack around in the coming years. Leone Nakarawa is in the prime of his career and was duly crowned European player of the year.
With Simon Zebo and Finn Russell among the new names joining the Parisians in the summer, Racing will have enough quality to challenge for Europe’s top honours again next season.