We want to send Isa and the lads off on a high
What a weekend it was. May 12, 2018 and the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao will go into the history books together with other great occasions in Murrayfield, in the Millennium Stadium and in Twickenham and a fourth star can finally be added to the Leinster Rugby jersey. It really was a massive moment for the club but perhaps more than that it was a massive moment for this group of players.
I have spoken before of what it means to pull on a Leinster jersey. It is something that we are all as players hugely proud of but we are also very aware of the legacy and maybe too the fact that we had yet to add to that.
A first medal won with Leinster ensures that we have left that mark and whatever happens this weekend or further down the line we can say that we have now driven that legacy and have contributed and that is a massive thing for this group.
The question now is can we kick on again? Can we add another piece of silverware to the cabinet back in UCD and set this season out as a truly unique season? It won't be easy. This is the seventh time in three seasons that we have prepared for the Scarlets in the Guinness PRO12 (as it was) and now the PRO14. We have won three. They have won three. And of course there was that draw earlier this season.
If you add in the fact that we actually had to prep for the away game in Parc y Scarlets twice this season due to the snow, that is prepping for one team on eight occasions in just 36 months. And that is before you add in the Champions Cup game this season. That is a lot of analysis and a lot of familiarity and that makes the task doubly hard. We will know them pretty well and they will have us sussed.
They will have learned plenty of things from their loss in the Aviva a few weeks ago too and will hope to address them come Saturday. They were worthy PRO12 champions last season. Coming to the RDS - where we hadn't lost in more than a year - and taking our scalp and then going to the Aviva and taking Munster out as well took some doing. They earned their title the hard way.
And they have earned a shot at defending that title the hard way too and have come through some massive battles over the last season to secure a second appearance in the PRO14 final in as many years.
What sets them apart now from a few seasons ago?
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I think Wayne Pivac, the head coach, has had a huge impact on their play and how they go about their business. They have also become more successful as a club and the more you win the more confidence that this brings. We saw that in Europe too. Coming through a tough pool and then beating La Rochelle, who have been going great in the French TOP14, in the quarters in Parc y Scarlets.
They also have quality across the board and recruited really well during the off season with players like Leigh Halfpenny coming in. And of course they have Tadhg Beirne. I would have known Tadhg from days in the Leinster Academy together and he is a top fella and you couldn't be happier for him and how his career has progressed. Obviously he has now secured a move to Munster for next season and he will be touring with Ireland to Australia in the summer. He has been a key part of what they do well.
Our preparation this week will be very different to the Munster game.
It was important we enjoyed the win in Bilbao and it was brilliant to come home to see the crowds in Energia Park for the homecoming. The support this season has been unbelievable and that was just another example to go along with the countless others. As a team, we were delighted to be able to spend that time with you all on the Sunday.
After a big game like that the physical soreness is unreal and there is no doubt that it is difficult to back it up a week later physically but it is mentally that we faced our biggest challenge.
The fact that it was Munster probably helped us because we knew how tough a game it was going to be but there is no doubt that it wasn't the ideal prep ahead of a game that big. Our detail was just ever so slightly off but that is all it takes.
So this week it's been good to be back to the normal routine.
The motivations for this weekend too are there for all to see. Like Munster last week, Scarlets are an excellent team so that sharpens the mind.
But so does 2016 and our last appearance in a PRO12 final. That sticks out in my mind and the lessons that we took from that day.
And then there is Isa, and Straussy and Jordi. Three men that have meant so much to this club in their years here and wanting to send them off in the best possible way.
It won't be easy, far from it, but we hope we've got one more big performance in the bag for those three lads.