Leo Cullen relieved to have top spot secured as Stormers earn draw at the RDS
If the Leinster second string wanted to feel a little better about their draw against the Stormers tonight, they could do worse than heed the words of Springbok World Cup winner Steven Kitshoff who compared playing the Irish side's reserves to Test match rugby.
Leo Cullen's side fought their way back from 17-0 down to lead 22-17 with nine minutes remaining, only for the URC champions to secure a draw through Clayton Blommtjies' try.
Both Manie Libbok and Harry Byrne had kicks to win it, but the home side could be content with three match points that secured their place a-top the table and ensures they won't have to leave the Aviva Stadium for any of their knockout games in either the URC or the Heineken Champions Cup this season.
"That's Leinster's 'B', without any of their internationals. It was a high-level game of rugby," Stormers coach John Dobson said.
"It looked like a Test match, I spoke to Kitsy (Steven Kitshoff) afterwards and he said it felt like a Test match; the intensity, the competition in every breakdown, the quality of hits from both sides.
"From our side, it was a superb game of rugby.
"We probably should have lost it, but we showed the character the Stormers are known for to come back from 22-17 and get the draw. It's well done to our chaps because we were on the ropes."
Leinster coach Leo Cullen said he had mixed emotions about a draw secured without the majority of his Ireland contingent who were given the evening off.
"It had a bit of everything really, didn't it?" Cullen said.
"Lots of really good intent, you could see it was aa really big game and both teams going at it, the Stormers have a lot of experienced internationals in their team and it was a really big challenge for some of our younger guys.
"The conditions were going to play a huge part, we were playing into the wind in the first half and the Stormers had plenty of territory and a 10-0 lead.
"Then, the try is a bit of a kick in the guts to go 17-0 down, the intercept try. But we managed to build some decent pressure on them, just before half time, Mikey Milne gets in and it was more of a manageable gap.
"We started the second half well and got in for a try, then there's a period where we're quite dominant and play a smart kicking game, and we put the Stormers under a fair bit of pressure.
"After going into the lead, 22-17, a bit disappointed that we don't quite kick on, but again the Stormers are a very good team, stacked with a lot of experience so they were always going to come back in some form.
"It's a mixed feeling, overall, it's great that we win the game three points to two, but it's a draw ultimately. It's a bit of a mixed feeling, but we got the job done to make sure we finish top of the log, and that's very satisfying, because a lot of work goes in over the course of a season.
"It's pleasing, when the internationals come back in next week, top spot in the league has been guaranteed, so that's positive overall, but still there's always a feeling of 'what if we did this better?'"
Leinster take on Ulster in the Heineken Champions Cup next Saturday and, if they win that, they'll be at home to Leicester or Edinburgh on Good Friday.
Then, they go to South Africa for a double-header and they can rest their frontliners if they so wish.
"We finished top spot last year and lost five games, so with two games to we're still undefeated in the league, it's a really good squad effort," Cullen said.
"In terms of South Africa, it will be a great experience, whoever goes down there, it always is. But it allows us to manage things to a certain degree."
The two sides may yet meet again in both competitions and, while his Springbok-laden team couldn't get the job done tonight, Dobson says the lessons they learnt could be invaluable.
"It's really useful," he said.
"I know it's Leinster without a lot of players, but we could see the style of rugby and we learnt a lot.
"Tactical kicking, they're really good at it and the second thing we learnt - well, we knew it - it was how Leinster work on defence. It's really remarkable.
"It's a stupid example, really obvious - when Steven Kitshoff takes that lineout, which we worked on, Hacjiva Dayimani skins Rhys Ruddock and Rhys Ruddock gets the steal.
"That's a team that really fights and plays. We knew they worked hard on defence, so we knew we'd have to be clever with our kicking game or else we'd be faced with a wall like they faced with us.
"Ja, so we learnt a lot.
"Hopefully if we come back here we won't play in conditions like that, which will be better for us."