Leinster 42 Ulster 14: Lessons from one-sided Heineken Cup win
What did we learn from Leinster's 42-14 victory over Ulster in the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday?
Sean O’Brien is Ireland’s best number six
A giant in the back row, Sean O’Brien wreaked havoc all over the hallowed turf at Twickenham. His presence struck fear into the opposition, with his determination getting himself over the whitewash for Leinster’s first try before setting up Cian Healy for the second. Chris Henry went missing, while Stephen Ferris could only watch in awe as O’Brien put his case forward for Ireland’s blindside role. The man-of-the-match award was thoroughly deserved as last year’s European Player of the Year ended this season with a bang. Ireland head coach Declan Kidney needs to have a long think about what his back-row looks like next year. Ferris is no doubt one of the world’s best in the position however the explosive power Sean O’Brien possesses can give Ireland an extra dynamic. Ireland have open sides in their ranks that can play the contemporary style, Shane Jennings and Brian McLaughlin do it for Leinster, so why not for Ireland instead of playing one of their greatest assets in his wrong position?
Ulster stutter on the big stage
Paddy Jackson encapsulated all of what went wrong for Ulster in their Heineken Cup defeat by Leinster. The Ireland Under-20 captain was replaced by Ian Humphreys in the 45th minute – a change which came just too late. Prior to that, it was his kick straight into touch that led to Leinster’s penalty try which ended the final as a content. His performance was one of fear and angst, and missing a drop-goal didn’t help his cause just before half-time in a difficult opening 40 minutes. Meanwhile, the rest of his team were also anxious, with the ever reliable Ferris and Ruan Pienaar absent. Ulster never looked like troubling Leinster, who after scoring their two first-half tries, and Brian O’Driscoll’s side upped the gears and excelled in the final quarter notching their fourth and fifth tries. Ulster will learn from the experience, but who can beat Leinster playing like this?
Leinster unsung pack dominant
Leinster’s backline always impresses with Isa Nacewa, O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney usually the match-winners. On Saturday, it was the packs turn. The front-row managed the Ulster scrum with ease, winning one set-piece against the head in the first-half leading to a try. Healy was majestic as always in the loose, getting himself on the scoreboard and Richard Strauss remained in the thick of the action, while Mike Ross wasn’t found wanting either. New recruit Brad Thorn continued to prove his worth, while inspirational captain Leo Cullen led from the front. Jamie Heaslip and McLaughlin weren’t at their best, placing more of a spotlight on the impressive O’Brien. The backline had their customary accurate running game but it was definitely the day for the men up front.
Ireland’s club rugby at the top level
Saturday showcased the strength in depth of Irish club rugby. If having three out of the final four in Europe this season wasn’t enough, then Leinster’s scintillating display definitely confirmed the dominance of the Irish. Connacht get their second campaign in the Heineken Cup next year, and with Munster’s situation only set to get better, club rugby in the country is booming. Doesn’t this mean that the national team should also be the best in Europe? Not in Ireland’s case as the fabulous running lines that we see from Leinster never materialise while the pack looks nothing like the Heineken Cup winners’ scrum we saw at Twickenham, pillaging the opposition with their rolling maul and even winning the odd scrum against the head. The water-tight defence of Leinster is another major feature missing from the Irish setup and one starts to question the coaching methods that are in place.