The true impact of James Ryan on this team is now fully understood. Better team over 80 minutes won, without Ryan we had no answer to Skelton, ref had a good game. This was the 2011 final won for a second star by a team dead and buried after the first quarter. Jack Conan was again superb.
Hard luck Leinster folks. That was some start but LaR ground their way back in and then strangled Leinster with their power. I think they were helped in that by James Ryan’s absence (physicality and leadership), kicks out on the full, a blocked attempted clearance, some needless penalties / cards, and some wayward long kicking back to them. The slowdown in tempo from Q2 onwards helped LaR but hindered Leinster. Can’t understand why there wasn’t a drop goal attempt at the end; a try wasn’t needed at that stage.
Welcome to my 80+ column, a weekly post featuring final thoughts from the week of rugby just gone.
WRAP OF A WRAP
Our preview show ahead of Saturday’s match at the Aviva was our 250th pod since we posted our first back on July 5, 2019. Obviously there have been a lot more this season since we switched from article- to pod-based format, and going right the way back to the preseason friendly against Harlequins in September 2022, our “wrap pod” recorded on Sunday night at 8pm at Harpin Manor has only once featured a defeat for either Leinster or Ireland, namely the tanking against the Bulls which as we all know had no real consequence when it came to our final position.
So this latest one, our 40th this season, was the very first one where we had to suck it up and literally admit defeat for up to an hour. And I have to say Tom and Rich did an excellent job stepping up to the plate, especially since I dare anyone, and I mean ANYONE to say they were in any way complaining about how the match wen
If you missed it, check it out here or on most major platforms.
HARPIN ON…THE FRANK MURPHY DEBATE
I decided to set a bit of a trap with the bonus clip this week. Like I said in the above segment, a lot of Munster and probably also ABL fans are likely to expect a lot of whinging by Leinster fans, so I thought maybe this headline would make them think that’s what we’re doing when it comes to the discussion over Frank Murphy’s performance. As you can see from the actual discussion, which includes a video insert from Keego, it was anything but.
If you’re playing the clip above maybe pop over and subscribe to the channel too? That’s where we post our Preview Show as well as other content throughout the week.
URC FINAL TIK TOK
The common theme from Leinster fans that I have seen around the ruggersphere since the final whistle has been “Fair play Munster, now go on and win it.” For the clip I use for TikTok to promote the wrap pod, I chose this snippet from Rich where he goes a bit further…
THE BEN HEALY KICK NONSENSE
First of all, as we said on the pod, it should be ok to mention Ben Healy going 3 seconds over the kick clock without being accused of creating outrage as if it led directly to the Munster win. It should be easy enough for the TMO to police this and offer a ten second warning to the ref which he can pass on to the kicker.
Second of all, to the Munster fans claiming Leinster are grumbling over this, can I just ask how they’d react if it were Johnny Sexton going over the clock by a nano-second and nothing was done and the boys in blue won by a point? 😜
Might as well share this set of “fun facts” sent around by EPCR ahead of Saturday’s final….
• Holders, Stade Rochelais, have reached the Heineken Champions Cup final for the third season in a row, and having qualified for the 2019 Challenge Cup decider, the club’s appearance at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday will be their fourth EPCR final in five years.
• Stade Toulousain in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and RC Toulon (2013, 2014, 2015) are the only other clubs to have qualified for three consecutive Heineken Champions Cup finals.
• Leinster Rugby will be appearing in a seventh Heineken Champions Cup final and will be looking to equal Stade Toulousain’s record of five titles.
• If Cian Healy is selected in Leinster’s match day 23 for the final, and if the Irish province are victorious, he will become the first player in history to win the tournament five times.
• Healy could also set a new tournament record of seven final appearances surpassing his total of six which he shares with Leinster teammate, Johnny Sexton, and Cédric Heymans of CA Brive and Stade Toulousain.
• The Stade Rochelais captain, Greg Alldritt, has made the most carries this season with 112 from his seven matches to date.
• The final will be the sixth between Irish and French clubs with the Irish currently leading the way with four victories to one.
• Antoine Hastoy of Stade Rochelais is this season’s leading scorer with 85 points, four ahead of Leinster’s Ross Byrne on 81. Josh van der Flier is the top try scorer with six while Tawera Kerr-Barlow has crossed for five.
• If they are named in their respective match day 23s, both Tadgh Furlong and Brice Dulin will make their 50th Heineken Champions Cup appearances on Saturday.
• Players from eight different countries – Argentina, Australia, Fiji, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Samoa and South Africa – are likely to feature in Saturday’s showpiece match which will be watched by TV viewers in close to 200 countries worldwide.
• Leinster’s Jimmy O’Brien is the tournament’s top metre maker on 449 and he also has made the most line breaks with 13.
CENTRES OF ATTENTION
Charlie Ngatai has been really impressive for the most part over the past few weeks. I thought maybe he made a couple of wrong decisions in that final fifteen minute spell last Saturday when he kicked the ball away when he didn’t really have to, which for him is strange to say because he’s very much a “keep the ball in hand” kinda 12. But I chose not to say it on the pod because I didn’t want it to take from his overall performance.
The reason I bring it up here is because as vital a cog as he has been for us this season, it simply cannot be overstated how much better it is for Leinster to have Henshaw and Ringrose back together this weekend, which is what I’m assuming will happen. Ngatai’s crash carries may have generated a bunch of go-forward ball against Munster, but it also served to limit Robbie’s effectiveness over the 80 minutes, and with the Jenkins try we saw just how effective he can be, an exception that proved the rule if you will.
Now with him and Garry back together (I’m assuming, see predicted 23 below) not only do we have a solid defensive cornerstone partnership but it also adds a host of options to our attack, and anyone who saw last year’s final will know it’s our attack which we’re going to need the most.
All that said, Charlie could come in very handy off the bench for Leinster.
There has been a few grumblings around the place about the URC playoff system over the past few weeks, long before the result on Saturday at the Aviva too. The suggestion seems to be that 8 might be too many qualifiers for the knockout stages.
I see where that idea is coming from, but I still disagree. It’s a 5-nations, 16-team competition that is surely going to look to expand so I reckon it’s important to keep the interest levels up as much as possible. I know Champions Cup qualification is also a reward for top 8 (especially now as they’ve finally removed the whole Shield nonsense) but I still think it’s ok to have playoffs as a reward for this season’s squad who actually achieved the position.
So what I would propose is a playoff system similar to that used in both Aussie Rugby League & Rules. Basically it gives the higher-finishing team a “double chance”. Instead of a straight knockout system like we have now where the QFs are 1v8 2v7 3v6 and 4v5, it could go like this…
A : 1 V 4
B : 2 V 3
C : 5 V 8
D : 6 V 7
E : Highest ranked loser A/B v lowest ranked winner C/D
F : Lowest ranked loser A/B v highest ranked winner C/D
G : Highest ranked winner A/B v lowest ranked winner E/F
H : Lowest ranked winner A/B v highest ranked winner E/F
I : Winner G v Winner H
It would need an extra weekend to be found on the calendar but I reckon it would be worth it as a bit more of a reward for the top 4 finishers than home advantage. I’m sure there are drawbacks to this system as well but I guess my overall point is that I’d be inclined to retain 8 qualifiers, especially if more teams are going to be joining the league down the line.
Very, very concerning news surrounding London Irish’s financial viability on the back of Wasps and Worcester’s woes earlier in the season. Obviously the most important concern is over the future of all the jobs which appear to be at risk.
On the rugby fallout, they actually had a decent season on the pitch and their 5th place finish makes them candidates for Leinster to meet in the Champions Cup pool stage, as things stand it would be either them or Harlequins. Should Irish not be able to compete, I’m assuming that Bristol would make it to the HCC despite having finished 3rd from bottom of the Prem, and it would be Exeter that could be our HCC opponents.
It goes without saying that the entire rugby family is hoping that none of those contingencies are needed.
HCC AS GUINEA PIGS?
Speaking of the makeup of the HCC,its much-maligned format came back into the news yesterday as the European football governing body UEFA announced it’s plans to overhaul it’s Champions League from an 8-pools of 4 method to a clunky 1 league of THIRTY-SIX with 8 matches each and as many as 24 qualifying for the knockout rounds. It’s so similar to that used by the Heineken Cup I’m almost tin-foil hatted enough to wonder if we have been used as guinea pigs for the past few seasons?
Apparently the HCC format is to be reviewed after the 23/24 season so we’ll see what they come up with. Expect another year of complaining in the meantime though.
With the obvious high-profile exceptions of Will Connors and Johnny Sexton, this was overall a really good injury report for Leinster in the week leading up to a Champions Cup final. It was a pleasure to type out that possible 23.
Some might argue that Doris can play 6 with Conan at 8 and Baird at 20, but I think this formation is better for Leinster which would make Conan the unlucky one yet still ready to make a massive impact from the bench.
For me the real debate is over 22 & 23. First, do we go for a 6/2 split to give us extra beef against the La Rochelle pack? It certainly didn’t hurt Munster last Saturday. If so I’d probably go for Deegan as the extra man with Frawley’s versatility getting the nod over Harry.
I still think it’s more likely we go for a 5/3. Personally I’d stick with Frawley as 22 with the hope that Ross can play a full 80, and that would leave us with a question of Ngatai or Larmour as the 23. Either would be great, but FWIW I’m thinking we need an out and out winger in reserve so I’d probably go for Larmour.
On the subject of squad selection, should we have picked a full team for last Saturday? It’s easy to say yes now, but remember we WERE NOT HAMMERED by Munster as many seem to suggest. There was just the one point in it and it could easily have gone the other way.
That said, you can definitely make an argument for having a policy that our strongest team gets picked for any and every semifinal. To play your best side in the showpiece is of course the ideal, but first you must make it there and when you’re as close as the final four better to give yourself the best chance and let the injury chips fall where they may.
POSSIBLE 23 V LA ROCHELLE
Keenan, J O’Brien, Ringrose, Henshaw, Lowe, R Byrne, Gibson-Park
Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, Molony, Ryan (c), Baird, JVDF, Doris
(note – the above team is purely from my imagination, it’s certainly not one of those quasi-leaked Thornley teams which are always 22 out of 23 correct)
OFFICIAL INJURY REPORT
Cian Healy came through the game at the weekend with no issues after his recovery from an ankle injury.
Rónan Kelleher came through the game at the weekend with no issues after his recovery from a shoulder injury.
Robbie Henshaw came through the game at the weekend with no issues after recovering from a quad issue.
James Lowe was part of the extended match day squad at the weekend and will train as normal this week.
Scott Penny has come through the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and will be available for selection this week.
Will Connors has entered the Graduated Return to Play Protocols and will be unavailable for selection this week.
There are no further updates on:
Vakhtang Abdaladze (neck), Ed Byrne (tricep), Rhys Ruddock (hamstring), Johnny Sexton (groin), Jamie Osborne (knee), Martin Moloney (knee)
Both Irish teams were involved in Toulouse at the weekend, and both made the quarterfinals on the way to a 6th place finish, but the headlines was always going to be for Lucy Mullhall’s women’s squad who earned enough points to qualify directly for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Obviously it’s a wonderful achievement and just what the women’s game here needed what with all the recent doom and gloom.
And it’s not like they didn’t earn it – I watched most of their games over the weekend (hat-tip to Google Calendar reminders) and from the very first match against the hosts France they were magnificent, especially on defence. A lot of star names in that squad like Mulhall, Higgins, Flood, Parsons, Aimee Lee Murphy Crowe ( or “Lawfirm” as our contributor Mark Jackson calls her)…the whole team played well throughout and as it turned out were unlucky to meet Australia twice otherwise they may have finished higher.
Still when it came to Olympic qualification it ended up as a straight shootout between ourselves and Fiji – the winner qualifies for Paris, the loser has to wait and try again another day. And our defence was tip top for this one as two Lawfirm tries were enough to win 10-5 which mean the celebrations could begin and that was awesome to see. Certainly lifted my spirits on Sunday morning after all that had gone on the evening before!!!!!
As for the men well like I say they also finished 6th in Toulouse but it wasn’t enough to prevent them from having to go through further Olympic qualifiers but still there have been many highlights for them this season particularly the silver medal in Dubai.
Still one round to go for them in London this weekend hopefully they can finish in style.
SATURDAY MAY 23
10:23AM – IRELAND MEN V FIJI
1:31PM – IRELAND MEN V JAPAN
5:35PM – IRELAND MEN V ARGENTINA
I’ve been keeping tabs on the MLR this season, adopting the New England Free Jacks as “my team” and in the latest round they travelled to Loudon, Virginia to face Old Glory DC. It was billed as a battle of 1st vs 2nd in the Eastern Conference but in the first half it was more a case of men v boys as the Free Jacks halfback pairing of Poland and Portroz led the side to a 28-7 lead at the break with the try bonus point in the bag.
DC fought back a bit to get a BP of their own but the visitors were pretty much coasting throughout and in the end it was a 42-24 victory which extends their lead in the East. Referee for the day was Argentinian Federico Anselmi, who has officiated at test level and wasn’t taking any back chat from the players on the day, that’s for sure.
There’s highlights in the tweet below and the build up to my favourite Free Jacks try comes 17s into the clip.
Meanwhile out in the west, San Diego’s win over New Orleans was their 11th out of 12 and they remain 9 pts clear of Seattle with Houston and Utah seeming to be in a two horse race for the third playoff spot.
More on the league next week.
TOR 34-34 ATL
NOLA 12-26 SD
HOU 17-34 SEA
DAL 26-36 UTAH
OGDC 24-42 NEFJ
CHI 20-21 NYI
TOR V OGDC
ATL V DAL
UTAH V HOU
SEA V CHI
NEFJ V NOLA
HARPIN’ PREDICTION LEAGUE
NGL I really, really did consider predicting a Munster win to try and make up some ground. And I know many will think of that as “arrogance” but the fact remains Leinster were 10 point favourites with the bookies so the prediction really would have been a gamble. Instead I went for both semifinals as 7-point home wins and, well, that didn’t happen!!! So it looks like I’m going to finish 3rd, which is a hell of a lot better than the wooden spoon last season I suppose.
As for this year’s title it’s now between Mark Jackson & RugbyKino with MJ in pole position. I’d expect him to play it safe with the final and go for the Stormers and if I were Kino I’d go for Munster but we’ll see what they go for on the day.
Meanwhile I will have the “Jersey Of Shame” packed and ready to post to Keego when the final whistle blows in the final as I can’t really see him clawing back that deficit somehow…
AI RUGBY : LEINSTER V MUNSTER ‘DRY RUN’
What did AI know???? Maybe the match finished a lot closer in reality, but when I fed the two teams into the ChatGPT app it did come up with a win for our Southern cousins. We’ll see what it says about LEIvLAR this Friday…
Imagine a game of 15-a-side rugby union between Leinster Rugby and Munster Rugby over two halves of 40 minutes with the two lineups outlined below, taking into account the current reputation and form of all the players involved.
Leinster : 15. Jimmy O’Brien 14. Tommy O’Brien 13. Robbie Henshaw 12. Charlie Ngatai 11. Dave Kearney 10. Harry Byrne 9. Luke McGrath CAPTAIN
1. Michael Milne 2. Rónan Kelleher 3. Michael Ala’alatoa 4. Ryan Baird 5. Jason Jenkins 6. Max Deegan 7. Will Connors 8. Jack Conan
16. John McKee 17. Cian Healy 18. Thomas Clarkson 19. Joe McCarthy 20. Josh van der Flier 21. Nick McCarthy 22. Ciarán Frawley 23. Liam Turner
Munster: 15 Mike Haley; 14 Keith Earls, 13 Antoine Frisch, 12 Jack Crowley, 11 Shane Daly; 10 Ben Healy, 9 Craig Casey
1 Jeremy Loughman, 2 Diarmuid Barron, 3 Stephen Archer; 4 Jean Kleyn, 5 Tadhg Beirne; 6 Peter O’Mahony (C), 7 John Hodnett, 8 Gavin Coombes.
16 Niall Scannell, 17 Josh Wycherley, 18 Roman Salanoa, 19 Fineen Wycherley, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Neil Cronin, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Alex Kendellen
Write 2000 words on the progress of the match in the form of a timeline (no conclusion, just the timeline only) reporting incidents like tries, conversions, penalties, injuries and yellow or red cards.
0-10 minutes: The game starts with a lot of intensity from both teams as they try to stamp their authority. There are some physical exchanges in the early minutes with both teams making their tackles count.
10-20 minutes: Leinster draws first blood with a try from winger Tommy O’Brien following some slick handling in the backline. Harry Byrne makes no mistake with the conversion.
20-30 minutes: Munster responds with a try from winger Keith Earls, who ghosts past a couple of defenders to cross over the try line. Ben Healy adds the extras to level the scores.
30-40 minutes: Leinster applies some sustained pressure to Munster’s defense, but they struggle to break through. Harry Byrne kicks a penalty towards the end of the half to give Leinster a slender 10-7 lead.
Half-time: Leinster 10-7 Munster
45-55 minutes: Munster comes out firing in the second half and takes the lead with two tries in quick succession – one from Peter O’Mahony and the other from Craig Casey. Healy adds the extras from both tries to give Munster a 21-10 lead.
55-60 minutes: Leinster hits back with a try from prop Michael Ala’alatoa following a series of pick-and-gos close to the Munster try line. Byrne’s conversion leaves the score at 21-17 in Munster’s favor.
60-70 minutes: Munster extends its lead with tries from center Jack Crowley and replacement hooker Niall Scannell. Healy successfully converts both tries to put Munster in the driving seat with a 35-17 lead.Yellow card: 66th minute – Munster’s Tadhg Beirne for a high tackle.
70-75 minutes: Leinster scores a quick try from flanker Will Connors to keep the game alive, but they are still trailing by 35-24 with less than 10 minutes to go.
75-80 minutes: Leinster pushes hard for another score, but Munster defends resolutely, thwarting any attacking opportunities. The game ends with Munster coming out on top, 35-24.
Full-time: Leinster 24-35 Munster
THE NEXT BATCH OF HARPIN’
One teeny tiny advantage from Saturday’s result has been that it allows me to give myself the week off following the Champions Cup final. So during the week we will of course be giving the showpiece the full Harpin treatment with a preview on Friday, the last wrap pod of the season on Sunday, and a whole lot in between. The gloom is slowly but surely turning into nervous but still excited anticipation so I hope you’ll join me along the way by any or all of our social media platforms.
In the meantime, be sure to enjoy your rugby wherever you are. JLP
I know we played Toulouse just last season but for our latest TT I thought it best to go back a bit further to 2019 when we met them in the final four having already played them home and away in the pool phase.
That’s not exactly the kind of run we Leinster fans have gotten used to over the years, and coming as it did right after Ireland’s disappointment in Cardiff to round out the Six Nations, we’d be forgiven for having our expectation levels set at ‘apprehensive’ going into this Easter Sunday battle with our fellow four-star bearers.
But if our experience under the Cullen/Lancaster ticket has taught us anything, it’s that they know how to dig deep and find our A game when a big occasion demands it of them. And there was a hint of that in the run I mention above because on the one day the result actually meant something to Leinster’s season, we managed to find a way to win.
But with all due respect to our northern cousins, this semifinal was a step up again. Three of our titles have been won since Toulouse earned their fourth, yet this season they were starting to show that kind of form again, as we saw ourselves back in October, and the entire Top 14 has seen throughout the domestic campaign.
It was pretty clear that if there was even a hint of the lack of accuracy on Sunday that we had shown in recent weeks, we would be punished. And while we have been welcoming a host of our ‘elite’ squad members back to the first team lately, it was essential that they hit the ground running.
What a curious opening spell it was. For the first ten minutes we had only about three phases of possession, while our guests had built series of 6, 8 and 9 – yet thanks to our stringent defence, we came out of it with the scores level at 3-3.
Then came the game’s first major unforced error, when Toulouse’s full back Thomas Ramos put his restart over our end line giving us a scrum at halfway.
We had an earlier put in but it resulted in a free kick which Conan tapped quickly, so after twelve whole minutes we finally found ourselves in an attacking situation, or to put it another way, we had an opportunity to show the rest of Europe just how able we were to put the previous four weeks behind us.
What followed gave everyone the answer and then some. 10 well-thought out phases, with carries accompanied by good clear-outs, gain-lines broken regularly, offloads timed to perfection especially by Cian Healy, and eventually James Lowe, who probably wouldn’t have featured had Jamison Gibson-Park been fit, showed his usual mix of pace, strength and determination to get the ball down.
Now we know for sure which Leinster team has turned up. The only question left that needed answering was could the French outfit raise their game to meet us.
For me, that had already been answered. In that first pool meeting in round 2, they threw the kitchen sink at us and prevailed by just one point. In the return fixture in January, I felt they tried to adjust their game to knock us off our stride and failed badly.
Here I think they may have been guilty yet again of showing us too much respect. To be fair, they were without Zach Holmes and Ntamack was carrying a knock, but for me if an out half is good enough for the bench he should be good enough to start.
Antoine Duponte is a pesky scrum half who can definitely out shine his 10 on occasion and having impressed against Racing in the quarterfinals, there was definitely a case for him to do a job in the playmaker role.
But while we were setting about finding our best game, they appeared to be hell bent on tinkering with theirs, and if you’re going to do that on a stage like this one, you have to be absolutely sure it’s going to work. And it didn’t.
A look at Leinster’s defensive charts might raise an eyebrow as ten of our starters were ‘credited’ with more than one missed tackle. But as often is the case when crunching these numbers, it doesn’t tell the whole story. A high percentage of those missed ones were made up for by tackles made by a team mate.
We were generally hunting in groups of two or three, and often the offloads we would expect from Toulouse weren’t forthcoming. Conan led with 18 tackles, both our starting locks had 16 and perhaps most crucially our centres had 25 between them, with one or two by Ringrose proving particularly key.
So attack after attack was being shut down, even when faced by the ridiculous pace and guile of Kolbe, who after a couple of trademark runs made some inroads, grubbered one along the touchline only to be tidied by Jordan Larmour.
In the ensuing play, we had one of those rare moments on a rugby pitch when you can throw the ball forward to a team-mate and it can legally benefit you. I always thought this was an area that needed tidying up in the laws, but I wasn’t complaining when Larmour ran with the ball from behind his try line before chucking it ahead to James Lowe for him to take the drop out.
Always full of confidence to try something to catch the opposition napping, Lowe dinked a mini drop kick to himself and retained possession for us, and when the ball eventually went through the backs, Robbie Henshaw spotted a gaping hole in the Toulouse backfield and booted a monster kick to find touch on the far side of the pitch.
Yoann Huget retrieved the ball and was clearly keen to get keep the tempo moving so he took a quick throw and found Ramos. Maybe the full back had his overcooked restart on his mind, or maybe he was generally affected by not being trusted with the 10 jersey, but whatever the reason he hesitated and his kick was not only charged down, but pretty much the entire Leinster pack smelled blood in the water and eventually a combination of Fardy, Toner and Ryan wrapped him up in his own 22 to force a scrum.
So to summarise, from a situation where Toulouse’s danger man was running at us at pace in our 22, just moments later we had won an attacking set piece way down the other end of the park. Now we needed to go for the kill and turn this territory into more points.
I’m sure Richie Gray has gone over this moment in his mind several times, even after his 10-minute spell on the naughty step. And I actually think he was making a conscious effort to show Wayne Barnes he had no intention of waving his hand at the ball on the floor of the ruck yet his hand did it anyway. So to make matters even worse for his team, we now had an extra man into the bargain.
And with the iron even hotter than the Dublin Easter sun, we struck. Lineout, maul, over the line, Luke McGrath try. Just like that, we’re up by fourteen in a match I thought for sure would never have a margin of more than seven either way.
But here’s the thing – while this was definitely a day when we brought our A game, that doesn’t mean we always showed it. A lineout would go awry here, a carrier would get himself isolated there, and immediately after our second try Devin Toner struggled with the sun in his eyes and knocked on the restart. Time for Toulouse to have the prime attacking position.
And the repetition was to continue when a Leinster hand got in the way of a Toulouse attacking move. While pounding our try line with carry after carry, a pass to their prop Faumuina was swatted at by Robbie Henshaw and Barnes rightly flashed his yellow once more.
Was that a penalty try? There was certainly a case for it. Had the prop taken the ball his run would have gotten him over the line. That said, had he taken the ball then Scott Fardy and Johnny Sexton were in position to get under him. Call me biased if you want but I’m not sure that was a certain try.
But whatever about that debate, there was definitely a big game error from the French outfit when they sent the kicking tee onto the pitch before properly taking in the situation.
Had they considered that it was now 14 v 14 surely a kick to the corner was the way to go, yet they had to make do with just the three points, and despite the clock reaching 46 before the halftime whistle blew (thanks to a James Lowe try that was rightly disallowed for a block by Conan), there was to be no further score in the half.
Notice how long it took me to mention the name of Sexton? And even then it was in a defensive context? That might seem odd seeing how he was named man of the match, but that doesn’t mean I think he was unworthy. It was one of his more understated performances all round, but it was still one that was in stark contrast to the distinctly-less-than-assured outing by his opposite number.
This put the French coaches into one of those halftime quandries…do we leave things as they are and hope they work out or do we make a switch and admit we were wrong? Well they went for the former and the decision got exactly what it deserved when Duponte threw a pass straight into touch on 48m. Whatever out half prowess he had displayed before, he just couldn’t find it on this day.
And from there, Leinster’s ability to work their way to a crucial score kicked in once more. From the lineout following the Duponte error we stretched their defence through 6 phases before Sexton slipped through an immaculate grubber that sat up perfectly in the 22 forcing Kolbe to play it.
Now on an average day, even deep in his own corner, you wouldn’t bet against the Springbok dancing his way down to the other end of the pitch in a matter of seconds, but further proof the writing was on the wall for Toulouse came when that man Ramos mucked things up again by colliding with his team mate and forcing him into touch – suddenly it’s a lineout to Leinster within sight of the try line.
A penalty advantage and a bunch of phases later, this time it was Scott Fardy crashing over, and with nerves of steel his captain Sexton slotted over the crucial extras meaning the visitors now needed three scores to catch up with us.
NOW they make the switch, bringing on Ntamack and moving Duponte back to 9. Gate locked, horse bolted?
Well they did manage to switch on their famed offloading game and it was having an effect, with series of 13 then 11 phases getting them deep into our 22 before Médard, another who surely could/should have started, dinked one over our defensive line only for Garry Ringrose to make a last gasp lunge for the ball and force a simultaneous touch down.
All they could take from the visit was another three points and such was the order of the day. Sexton added another penalty minutes later to restore the lead and was immediately replaced by Ross Byrne, who got his own name on the score sheet with a penalty with minutes to go.
The final fifteen minutes were way more comfortable than anyone could have imagined going into the match. Ironically the last touch of the game went to young Hugh O’Sullivan, on for Luke McGrath in the closing stages, and possibly thanks to the form of James Lowe, set to take part in a European final in a few weeks.
So after a run of disappointing results, Leinster certainly found a way to produce the goods when it mattered. But despite the impressive display, it was clear at times that we had another level to reach for as well, and with Saracens awaiting for us in Newcastle, we will have to find it.
Thankfully we don’t have any season-defining rugby in the meantime – our trip to Belfast next weekend won’t affect either side while our guaranteed first place finish sees us idle the following week.
Meanwhile, Saracens will have two tough Premiership battles against teams with playoff intentions; first they return to the scene of their European semifinal triumph to face Wasps, then they get a chance to make up ground on league leaders Exeter.
I guess you could make arguments both ways on which is the better way to prepare for a major final but this I know – Leinster have proven time and time again that they can shift into the required gear regardless of what has gone before.
There will be no assumptions made by fans ahead of kickoff in Newcastle, but there will most certainly be an abundance of belief. Bring it on. JLP
(also a report from France on the match conditions by Tom Coleman)
FULL TIME TAKES
Andrew Potts Very good performance by Leinster and adapting well to Racing flooding the ruck. As always Leinster very focused as 15 on the park, impressive by JVdF nuisance all day which is a compliment for a 7 and still gas at 79 for a solo!
Gerald Williamson Will not complain. A convincing win in the end. Even missing one or two key players, Leinster did the job for the bonus pt win. Stuart has a idea what awaits him next season.
Gavin Hegarty Job done, BP done. Racing should be embarrassed to lose by 32 at ‘home’. We need to do better but you can only play what’s in front of you.
Chris McDonnell Without Sexton Henshaw and Furlong and still almost flawless. A little too much kicking for my liking but hey
RichardMifsud You don’t win anything in December, especially in the #championscup but you can lay down markers and #leinster did just that in Le Havre That was easily their best 80 of the season thus far Caelan Doris worthy POTM but big performances across the park Let’s see where we are in May in #dublin #R92vLEI
Jay Long You can only play what’s there but was really happy to see how hungry we were throughout. The lads chased everything. Sensational start. We’re on the road again!
Ross Carrick I wasn’t expecting this from Racing. Lack of sustained possession and phase building. Leinster aren’t at their best but are deserved three score leaders.
Robin Cafolla I remember when you feared going to France no matter who you were playing. Safe to say those days are over. Very dominant display from Leinster.
Brian Nisbet 10-42, what a wonderful victory in France! Perfect start to this year’s European campaign from a team that are playing very well together!