Monday 18 December 2017

No complaints as Ospreys time run to perfection

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It was meant to be the perfect end to the perfect season for Leinster, but not for the first time the Ospreys failed to read the script. For courage in never giving in, for delving deep and digging it out at the end, the Welsh region fully deserve their fourth Celtic title.

There will be no self-pity in the Leinster camp for, in the final analysis, given a nine-point final-quarter lead, they know they blew it. And yet quite apart from missing out on a rare Celtic-European Cup double, it is hard not to feel for a team that romps away to finish top of the league table by 10 points.

But for the second time in as many seasons, they have fallen at the final hurdle in pursuit of that elusive double, while for the third competition running they finish up with silver as the Ospreys timed their final spurt just right yet again.

Throw in Shane Williams in his 'final final' appearance with a brace of second-half tries paving the way for Dan Biggar's title-winning touchline conversion and it represents pretty much the dream finale at the RDS, but not as we all anticipated it might be.

There will be no excuses -- that is not the Joe Schmidt way -- but retaining European rugby's premier title took a heavy physical and emotional toll. The soundings were right in the lead-in but, though minds were willing, the bodies just weren't able to stumble over the finishing line.

Injuries to first-choice props Cian Healy and Mike Ross were massive factors, and the scrum was key. Had Adam Jones and Co won a penalty-try just before the break it would have been no more than the Ospreys deserved.

Instead, in awarding a penalty to a seven-man Leinster scrum under siege, it appeared Romain Poite had given them the initiative.

To be fair to the Welsh Galacticos from times past, this is now a team united. With the iconic Williams now retiring and Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips and James Hook having long moved on, this is a squad of few stars.

Established internationals yes but hard grafters too. In Rhys Webb and Biggar, they possess a half-back pairing above the ordinary. Webb was a constant threat to the Leinster fringe defence.

For Leinster, in what proved a game too far, there were a few performances of consequence, with the inimitable Isa Nacewa leading the way.

His defensive bravery was matched by his extraordinary aerial magic in pursuit of the high ball. While his tries in either half were very different in design, the common thread was that insatiable desire to make every Garryowen his. The naturalised Dubliner is one Leinster imported legend worthy of that name. He was outstanding.


So too was Devin Toner. He may not be New Zealand-bound just yet but on this evidence the Leinster lock is well worth the call. Quite apart from his athleticism in gobbling up Biggar's high, hanging restarts, his improvement in taking and delivering the pass under pressure is dramatic.

It tallies with everything Schmidt espouses and the ball-handling work being done in the background.

Beyond that, Rob Kearney was again blowing hot, while both centres will travel Down Under in encouraging form. But this was the Ospreys' day, and while but a single point in 61 separated the sides at the death, it is difficult to question the outcome.

They say a league table never lies but the Ospreys have managed three wins over Leinster in three attempts -- twice in Dublin.

They clearly have Leinster's number.

On yesterday's evidence the trophy rests where it is most deserved.

Irish Independent

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