Monday 21 October 2019

Don't expect any sympathy, Munster will see this as a chance to attack the wounded

Referee Jerome Garces speaking with Jonathan Sexton last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee Jerome Garces speaking with Jonathan Sexton last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Most Leinster supporters have been saying all week that they were beaten by the better team last Saturday but even with this, something just doesn't feel right.

For a couple of weeks, Leinster had it nailed. They produced a masterful semi-final against Toulouse that ignited the Champions Cup dream.

The ability to rest players at the business end of the season is unheard of, yet the management were able to navigate their way through the two competitions with minimal injuries and exposure.

Then came the second half of last weekend's final, of all the years chasing the holy grail this was the game that hurt the most and the one that will test the return of Leinster rugby as we know it.

After the initial nerves for both sides, Leinster had control. They clicked into auto-pilot and all the pressure was on Saracens. It was the first time we saw the English men retreat and be forced into errors.


Defensive structures on the wings and kicking the ball dead were the talking points in the aftermath but where Leinster failed is that they could not adapt on the run.

Leinster went out to run the ball and move the heavy Saracens artillery around the park.

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This was a great game-plan given the fact that Saracens should have been feeling end-of-season fatigue, but World Cup year is different in English rugby.

Players have been managed Irish-style this season.

This has resulted in Saracens saving the best for last and the fatigue never kicked in.

What was disappointing from a Leinster point of view is that Saracens had no plan B throughout the campaign. This was obvious but Leinster did and couldn't activate it.

While Leinster got involved in trench warfare, referee Jerome Garces ran out the gate.

It's not rugby culture to blame anything on the referee but for a World Cup year, Garces had an appalling game.

What two professional teams require at this level and at this stage of the competition is parity at least.

Countless neck rolls from men in red jerseys went unpunished and there was no consistency in the lineout accuracy.

I will try and not go there on the offside rule, which was blatantly disregarded at ruck time and open play, but feeling better having got this off my chest, there is a theory going back through the ages to play the ref.

In this case last weekend, the ref was marked absent just 30 minutes into a game of huge importance.

What was disturbing watching on was that Leinster were reduced into a lethargic, catatonic state by the physical assault from Saracens.

Captain Johnny Sexton, berated by one and all for back-chat to the referee in the past, should have given both barrels to Garces.

The boy who cried wolf had to restrain himself at times while the crowd and those at home made up for him.

More importantly there should have been a switch of game-plan to kick to the corners and turn the heavy pack.

Leinster, once again, did not react accordingly when their opposition were down to 14 men.

Leinster were punch-drunk and on the ropes yet we looked around and the scoreboard had only three points in it, surely this was achievable - but the horse had bolted and this day was not to be.

This weekend Leinster face Munster post-European disappointment, so the fall-out from last week's final will be short-lived with the attention having to shift early in the training week.

There'll be no sympathy coming from our southern colleagues but this game will certainly focus the minds of not only the players but the Irish rugby population.

Munster, themselves, are in a bit of disarray due to the nature of their performances and also the uncertainty in the management structure.

We have seen this before so this should not affect their performance this weekend. Munster will see it as a chance to attack the wounded.


The roller-coaster of emotions over the past few months, and particularly last few weeks, will take its toll on Leinster so there is no doubt we will see a shake-up in selection to avoid stagnation.

This will not deter the ambition of the Leinster squad but just refresh the mindset.

Apart from being a quest for silverware, this game will prove to be a final trial for World Cup selection.

If Leinster had won last weekend, by right they would deserve the lion's share in international selection but now there are places up for grabs.

This is good for Irish rugby and as a result, both teams still have something to prove for the long road ahead.

There is no doubt that neither Munster nor Leinster will want this season to just fade away.

There is still more success to be enjoyed for whoever makes it to next week's final in Glasgow.

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