Sport Rugby

Friday 24 January 2020

Tony Ward: The real world can wait for O'Driscoll

Tony Ward

Tony Ward

the announcement from the IRFU that their most prized possession will be available for one more year will add to the feel-good factor at tonight's Amlin Challenge Cup final. The omens have been good of late and, on the basis that Brian O'Driscoll's body stays strong and his family – most of all his wife Amy – continue to support him, then I think the right decision has been made at this point in time.

We could get greedy and hope that 2014 stretches into 2015 and the next World Cup, but that's for another day.

Come September and October, the body will do the talking, with the initial Heineken Cup forays quickly being followed by a particularly tasty autumn schedule, culminating with the All Blacks clash at the end of November.

O'Driscoll knows what he will miss when eventually he is forced to call it a day.

As he suggested to me recently in jest: "I'm just not ready for the real world yet!" I feel I echo the sentiments of the nation when saying the real world can wait.

He may not be a wet week in the job, but already Joe Schmidt's first contribution to the national set-up is massive. Contract signed, extension filed, time to get back to business and nobody in Irish rugby history does it better than BOD.

Blue is the colour and where Chelsea went in Amsterdam on Wednesday, Leinster will be looking to follow suit at the RDS tonight.

The big-spending London soccer club find themselves in the unique position of holding both European trophies – Champions League and Europa League – at the same time. The main one will move on to pastures new in Munich or Dortmund following the Wembley final tomorrow week, but for now Chelsea rule Europe.

By an amazing coincidence, should Leinster get the better of Stade Francais in tonight's final they too will be the possessors of the two main club trophies... well, for the best part of a day at least!

double

The European 'shadow' event might not have figured too highly on the pre-season 'must do' list, but they are now within touching distance (for the third time in as many years) of a European and domestic double – and should be mighty happy to be there.

Factor in the soon-to-depart Schmidt, Jonny Sexton and Isa Nacewa and the importance of the next eight days needs little elaboration. And while we are all assuming that O'Driscoll (new contract warmly welcomed), Gordon D'Arcy and Leo Cullen will be on board when Matt O'Connor takes control for the new season, there is no guarantee whatsoever that such will be the case.

So, for Cullen and Leinster the message is clear – we live in the here and now. There are other important ramifications for Irish rugby, not least that another European win would see Connacht entering the draw for the Heineken Cup for the third season running courtesy of Leinster's success.

I think that is a point worth contemplating when some people at the Sportsground get all high and mighty about Mike McCarthy's upcoming move to Dublin. Leinster's success in recent seasons has served Connacht well – fact, not opinion. And here's hoping the trend continues on the back of the Amlin final this evening.

Of course, for coach Christophe Laussucq and Stade Francais, the stakes are equally as high and, unlike Connacht watching tentatively from afar, their destiny is in their own hands. Having rested the entire first XV for their last Top 14 game – they finished the campaign 10th out of 14 teams – the intent to give it the full monty this evening is self-evident.

ramblings

That said, I do find it strange when the opposition camp offers ramblings along the lines "we've nothing to lose."

That quote was attributed to the head coach, but, with respect, surely a first ever European trophy for the club – there have been three previous Heineken and Amlin final defeats – and, with it, a place at the top table alongside the European elite for next season, is not to be sneezed at.

And before we hear the usual "bad traveller" diatribe can we point to successive wins over Bath (36-20) and Perpignan (25-22) in the quarter-final and semi-finals at the Recreation Ground and Stade Aime Giral respectively. Some home sickness!

For Leinster the Amlin Cup is, obviously, not the European trophy they would have wanted, but, after drawing the short straw in French giants Clermont Auvergne in the pool stages, they've re-emerged and have really hit their stride in the 'shadow' quarter-final (away to Wasps) and semi-final (home to Biarritz) successes. They have, thus, proved that the all-encompassing winning desire still burns deep.

A total of 92 points registered in the knock-out rounds indicates a group that, when they click, are the equal of any opposition anywhere.

Given it is an all-French Heineken Cup final tomorrow and a likely war of attrition – with Jonny Wilkinson on board you wouldn't bet against Toulon going the whole way – but ask me to name the most rounded unit beyond Clermont and I would still say Leinster.

Neither Felipe Contepomi nor Paul Warwick – most probably water carrier and replacement utility back – will run on at the RDS tonight, but here are two overseas imports to rank alongside Nacewa, John Langford, Jim Williams, Doug Howlett and Ruan Pienaar as the very best to pitch up on these shores.

Rocky Elsom had a marvellous season in terms of impact, culminating in Heineken Cup success, but for longevity and general contribution – on the field and off – Contepomi and Warwick were outstanding. Expect both to receive the appreciation of the Leinster faithful at what is sure to be an atmospheric sold-out D4 venue.

Can Stade Francais upset the odds? Of course they can. Can Leinster win? Yes. Will they win? I believe so. But if anyone expects an easy ride, then think again.

If the Pink aristocrats hit the ground running and score early, then a right good rattle is guaranteed.

In the end, it is the man in the blue No 10 shirt whom I expect will lay down a marker as to what Racing Metro are set to enjoy over the next few years.

Take Sexton to deliver and his future local rivals to experience the sort of pain likely to be inflicted from September on.

Leinster by 10.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Schools rugby special - 'The St Michael’s dream team are the side to beat'

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport