Saturday 18 November 2017

Cheika hopes to cross swords with old rivals again

David Kelly

David Kelly

There's an almost fin de siècle type vibe around the Leinster camp this fortnight, what with the retirements of Girvan Dempsey and Malcolm O'Kelly, Bernard Jackman's ongoing injury travails and the imminent departure to French shores of Michael Cheika.

At the Bord Gais Energy IRUPA awards in Dublin two nights ago, the wistful air was enhanced by the announcement of an Irish team of the decade, 2000-10.

Clearly, there were contentious calls but one of the quirkiest was the decision to prefer Geordan Murphy ahead of Dempsey, who only moments earlier had been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

However, that couldn't dilute the continuing flow of tributes been directed towards Dempsey in particular, with Lions full-back Rob Kearney declaring that he owed much of his success to the Terenure College man.

"Of course it was frustrating over the years, it's always frustrating when you're on the bench and watching someone like Girvan take your spot," said Kearney at the awards night.

"But in so many ways it has been fantastic. I can 100pc say that because of Girvan's presence around me over the last five or six years that I'm a much better player for it.

"I've learned a huge amount from him. He's a model professional and he's a good mate.

"Being a full-back myself, he was a hero for me growing up and I always looked up to him. I've huge respect for him. I learned a lot from his positioning sense.

"You'll go far to find a better positioned full-back in the game.

"You judge that by the amount of times he catches balls on the full.

"So I've watched that over the years and it's been fantastic to watch him and try to imitate that style."

Completing a 4-0 sequence of successes against Munster would match any gold watch as retirement presents and even Cheika (pictured) managed to smile wryly when it was suggested to him that he may miss Munster.

"I don't coach them, do I?," he joked.

"It's been an enlightening experience for me. Those big derby matches are everything that's good about the game.

"Even the losses. They invoke the same type of emotions because you want to win so much in derby matches.

"I hope I will run into them again some time soon after I leave. It definitely won't be next year (Cheika's new employers, Stade, have failed to qualify for the Heineken Cup).

"But some time in the future because they are a quality outfit.

"You know that you're always going to have to battle to the very end against them because that is what the game is about.

"We all love to talk about great victories, wins tournaments but at the end of the day when Saturday comes along you want to have a good go and no team gives you a better run in than those chaps."

So any assumptions -- the bookies have them alarmingly long odds on favourites -- can be discarded?

"The key issue is to take every encounter on its own basis. If you start thinking like that you'll get hammered.

"Every ruck, every ball is going to be contested fiercely.

"You saw the way they played against Cardiff, they fought for every ball on the ground, contested everything.

"It wasn't pretty but they really showed their character in fighting for every ball.

"If there is one thing that we are well aware of it is we are going to have to be at our most physical if we want to win the game."

Irish Independent

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