Sunday 21 July 2019

Four-star dining on rocky road to Bilbao

JJ Hanrahan kicked well under pressure in Saturday’s quarter-final. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
JJ Hanrahan kicked well under pressure in Saturday’s quarter-final. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I will stowaway my way through the Basque country of France and Spain with the Leinster fans.

I have had a foretaste. The WhatsApp message came through from a dear friend dressed in blue.

"Have a list of the best Tapas/Pintxos Bars and Restaurants in San Sebastian from a chef -excluding Michelin stars. One restaurant is Tortilla and Steaks on the bone only."

I replied: "Told that McDonald's in San Sebastian give an extra tub of barbeque sauce with the chicken nuggets."

It really annoys when I hear of some Munster fans cheering for the French against the Irish. Remember it was France who gazumped us out of holding a World Cup. And remember the Grand Slam Leinster lads fought side by side with the Munster boys. Come on Leinster.

But I will be backing Munster in the semi-final of the Pro14.

Simon Zebo's gather, chip and pass won it for Munster in the quarters against Edinburgh on Saturday. Keith Earls ran in so fast, he is already ante-post favourite for the greyhound St Leger in Limerick's Green Park stadium. JJHanrahan kicked well under pressure and Peter O'Mahony stole a lineout when Edinburgh were no more than 20 metres from the Munster line.

Courageous Leinster will be flying home from Bilbao on the night of the game. The double is very much on Leinster minds.

There's no doubt but that Leinster are a courageous, skilful, imaginative team, who always give of their best.

Brian O'Driscoll was the man who brought in the do or die. Leo Cullen bought in and their most courageous performance was in the quarter-finals against Harlequins on April 11, 2009 at the Siege of the Stoop, a day that later became known as Bloodgate. Leinster went on to win their first gold star.

There are times when the eventual champions show us a trailer for greatness. Leinster blew away last year's winners Saracens early on. The Basque embroiderers were already commissioned to stitch the record-equalling fourth star on the Leinster jerseys.

The concern is Racing demolished Munster in the first 25 minutes. They were just too big, too strong and too smart.

Racing are canny and cunning. They attacked Munster where we were most vulnerable, out on our left flank.

I suspect Racing will target scrum-half on the basis that an army cannot function without supplies. The French will also target the Leinster lineout. They get their jumpers up fast and high.

I hope Wayne Barnes and his team are watching out for the now-obligatory late tackle on Jonathan Sexton. To be fair, Barnes is very good on player welfare.

Jonathan is giving his Le Drop boots to Anna Browne. He will be wearing the boots again on Saturday, as he did all through the Six Nations.

The boots come with a free pack of odour-eaters. Anna is the little Cork girl who needs €100,000 for a cerebral palsy operation and passed the 50,000 mark this week. Thanks so much to the readers of this paper.

But back to Racing and the big question is will they get the trip? Munster really got at the Parisians in the second half. It seemed the Racing players were tiring from not long after half-time. Or was this a case of their easing up when the game was won?

Leinster might decide to run the ball at every opportunity but Munster overdid the expansive game-plan and panicked at times. The trick is to keep the ball until the French wear out.

It must have been about 40 years when I last watched Leinster train in Donnybrook. They were like a married couple who sleep in separate beds. The forwards were sent off to train down at the Wesley End of the Donnybrook pitch and the backs practised on the Bective end.

Leinster's backs and forwards play as one, the French way. It could be the invisible mending will lead to the fourth-star embroidery. The only snag is there may be rain in Spain. I would argue for a ban on the rhyme "rain, rain go to Spain" , on the basis of careful what you wish for.

There was a time when Irish teams prayed for rain, but now we crave the fine weather. There should be an Infant de Prague posted outside of every Leinster house over the next few days. Or else it may be a very rocky Bilbao. Sorry about that one. I couldn't help myself.

I have just received a text from a Leinster fan who advises that Zuga, in Bilbao's old town, serves up a goat's cheese dish with manzanilla sherry, dried fruit vinaigrette, honey, liver with red fruits, Modena vinegar and a turkey's neck in a filo parce, on bruschetta.

I might just stick with the goat's cheese and a few cream crackers with a dollop of YR or Chef.

I hope Leinster win, and I believe they will, but only by the hairs of their chinny chin chin. Ah, but I'm very bad today.

Irish Independent

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