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Neil Francis: Vintage show underlines tragedy of pre-Christmas charity

Well, if you can, decant that performance. Vintage Leinster. There was a degree of brilliance in their performance which is extremely difficult to quantify.

It's not so much down to a smarter use of possession or how they managed to inject pace into the game, or their running lines, or anything you can use on a training park. When the mood takes them, Leinster are utterly compelling and they dismissed an archaic Biarritz side, who are still playing rugby out of the Stone Age.

Biarritz suffered from a poverty of expression when they had ball in hand. They had plenty of possession, particularly in the first half, but it was of very little value to them. It did not matter how many phases of pick-and-go they initiated, once they turned over the ball they were going to be in awful trouble.

Leinster played like patient wolves and it was great to see the hunger and the verve back in a side that is unquestionably one of the most difficult and fluent to play against. Champions go off the boil and Leinster will rue the charity they gave to inferior sides in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup. No team in the last four of the premier competition would be happy to play them. You get a sense that the watching Stade Francais squad will really have their work cut out just thinking about how to play against Leinster.

Biarritz came to Dublin with a one-dimensional game plan – they wanted to arm wrestle. That pre-supposes that their opponents would sit down at a table, stick their arm out and engage in arm wrestling. But Leinster are so many dimensions past that crude form of rugby and they knew that they could outplay Biarritz simply by ramping up the intensity, moving them around the park.

The Biarritz pack didn't even last 35 minutes. They were forced to deal with a dazzling array of inter-passing. There was no unthinking complexity about it. Leinster just played with a great deal of composure, got the ball wide, stretched the French side and then picked off the tacklers on the mis-match.

You knew from Jamie Heaslip's early try, in the fourth minute, the Irish team were just leagues ahead in the thinking department. In a very clever move, Leinster got Devin Toner running backwards four or five metres behind the 15-metre line. I'm not sure how legal that move was, to simply leave the lineout and run to the back of that setpiece. It was done before the ball was thrown in but Wayne Barnes let it go.

It was as if Moses had opened the Red Sea when Isa Nacewa came screaming down the gap Toner had created. Nacewa ran straight and he picked out Heaslip, who had anticipated the Fijian's line break, with a lovely basketball flop pass.

The Basques dominated possession for the next 25 minutes as Leinster showed the sort of charity Mother Teresa would have been proud of. Sexton shanked an easy penalty and, in fairness, Taku Ngwenya managed to manufacture a wondrous straitjacket of a tackle which prevented Sexton from touching down.

Leinster managed to butcher a number of close-in chances and Biarritz, encouraged by this, got back to 10-9 through the boot of Yachvili as their pedantic form of the game began to yield points.

You got the measure of Leinster's intent, however, in the last two minutes of the half.

Losing 10-9 would have left the Basques feeling very happy heading into the dressing-room, but a one-point advantage wasn't what Leinster were thinking. They managed to get the one decent lineout in the first half to work for them. Off Leo Cullen, Rob Kearney came on a very crisp angle back inside next to Sexton.

Both teams would have been satisfied then with 17-9 but, from a penalty in midfield, when the clock was in the red, Heaslip managed to get over at the side of the posts. That made it 24-9.

One of the things Leinster are really going to miss is Nacewa's brilliance, his footballing intellect and instinct. He is one of the most beautifully balanced runners in world rugby and the lead-up to Heaslip's second try was mesmeric in its execution.

Inside the flying winger, Ian Madigan, from the centre position, threw a forceful skipped pass to the winger, who was literally an inch from the line. He had to bend down to scoop up the ball. This he did without any change of pace. Then he ran 10 metres flat out right beside the chalk dust. Very few players in world rugby can maintain their balance at full speed while their body angles are out of kilter.

A lot of what Leinster did revolved around Nacewa. Getting the ball to him as wide as they could and watching him use that educated left boot to kick it 20 or 30 yards downfield, knowing that the kick will stay infield and knowing there is a very good chance to recover or put the opposition under real pressure. As usual he was involved in nearly all of Leinster's better moves. The guy is a genius. Leinster will miss him horribly. Brian O'Driscoll, too, was imperious and his ungracious tackle on Aled Brew just shows you how much he has left in the tank. Every breakout that Leinster initiated, O'Driscoll was in support and he looks to be in prime condition. Heaslip completely outplayed Hardinordoquy who was strangely subdued. He normally distinguishes himself in adversity.

In front of the watching Graham Rowntree, Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins you can see Cian Healy, Heaslip, Sexton, O'Driscoll and Kearney definitely going. Sean O'Brien will be on the plane too and you never know about Richardt Strauss and Madigan.

Leinster have done their bit.

Irish Independent