20 May 2012

Leinster vs Ulster - Heineken Cup Final Review

Ulster remarked in the build up to the final that they were a team motivated by jealousy. That jealousy had developed a quiet determination in their ranks as well as a growing sense of belief. 'Stand up for the Ulster men' was the rallying call bellowed out by their fans. A murmur had become a crescendo. Their belief appeared warranted too.... Escaping the group of death and thrashing Leicester in the process was a real achievement. Becoming only the second team to win away at Thomond Park against their Irish rivals Munster also heightened this feeling. It was time for Ulster to step out of the shadows of their more illustrious brothers.

That belief though must have all but dissipated now. 80 minutes of fantasy rugby culminating in a 42-14 rout by Leinster, showed just how far they are from reaching the pinnacle of European rugby. The bar has been set and Leinster it appears are not for budging. With 3 Heineken Cup successes in the last 4 years, Leinster it appears are building a dynasty in Europe.

Aristocrats have added steel to their finesse

Ulster may be demoralised following their comprehensive loss but if they want a template for progression, they need look no further than the team that beat them yesterday. Leinster after all were in a similar position only a few years ago. Vociferously taunted by opposition fans as 'Arsitocrats' who lacked the 'hard men' necessary to become champions, Leinster were a side also motivated by jealousy. Munster for years were the team to beat. How things have changed...

Leinster hard man - Brad Thorn
Those taunts have now been well and truly silenced. The likes of Rocky Elsom (now departed), Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and now Brad Thorn have added some real steel and backbone to complement the finesse that they have often showed in abundance. Any rival must now that Leinster are always up for the fight. The final scoreline yesterday may have been of pure fantasy and it might suggest that the game was a rout. I suppose in the end it was, but it must be noted that Ulster were not hapless. They had their moments with the ball in hand and looked dangerous at times, if not world beaters.

Leinster were just far more ruthless, both in attack and defence. For all the wonderfully crafted tries which the game will be remembered for, Leinster's success was built on the foundations of perspiration as much as inspiration. Their workrate in defence was simply outstanding; a trait of champions.

Dynasty in Dublin

Following yeterdays's performance, their is weight behind the theory that Leinster are now the greatest side in Heineken Cup history. Toulouse remain the most illustrious with four successes while Leicester (like Leinster) once won successive finals. None though have won three times in four years. Certainly none have won as comprehensively as Leinster yesterday. The scary thing for any pretenders is that this Leinster side still has enough youth in it's side to suggest that they can reign supreme for a number of years. Next year's final is in Dublin too....

Sexton's legend continues
The Heineken Cup is often lamented for poor handling skills and lack of tries by the southern hemisphere. In comparison to the Super 15, their is certainly merit behind the accusations at times. One cannot level those complaints at Leinster though (or Ulster for that matter).

Their offloading and distribution of the ball is oustanding. Leinster are the best passing side in Europe (and I include International sides in that assessment). The fact that Jonny Sexton plays so flat on attack also means that Leinster seem to cross the gain line with ease. It is reminiscent of the Blues in the mid to late 90's when Carlos Spencer was running the backline under Graham Henry.

Joe Schmidt the most innovative coach in Europe

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt
Perhaps Leinster's coach has taken inspiration from his countrymen? Since Joe Schmidt took the reigns, Leinster have become the most innovative side in European rugby by far. If he's not an All Black coach in waiting, I don't know who is. The way in which Leinster switch the focal point of attack makes them incredibly difficult to predict and thus defend against. As a defender you have to be on guard at all times. Concentration is imperitive. The first try of the game showcased it best of all.

Brian O'Dricoll scissored before passing inside to a charging Rob Kearney from full back who almost made it to the line. From then on Sean O'Brien made them pay with a short burst over the whitewash. It was a try befitting of a final. It's difficult to compare sides and eras, but for me this Leinster side remind me a lot of the Brumbies in the early 2000's. They certainly play with the same intelligence in attack. They also I would say kick less out of hand than the Crusaders, who despite sharing the same ruthlessness in attack, tend to play a lot more for territory.

Man of the Match - Sean O'Brien

There were a number of top performers in the final. For Ulster, Darren Cave showed promise at centre. If O'Driscoll is to retire from international rugby any time soon, perhaps they have unearthed a successor in the Ulsterman. John Afoa was also in terrific form at prop. He was always known as an athletic prop in Super Rugby, but he looks like a slightly porky superman in Europe. He was often found rampaging like a bull on the wing yesterday or tackling like a man posessed. As former England fly half Stuart Barnes commented, Afoa is currently the best defensive prop in Europe.

As well as those two played though, the award had to go to a Leinster player. Jonny Sexton controlled the game well from fly-half, kicking a hat-ful of points in the process. Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney also showed glimpses of true brilliance throughout the final. O'Driscoll's flick out of the back of his hand which led to Leinster's second try was something akin to a certain Sonny Bill Williams. The man who charged onto that flick pass though gets the award....

Rampaging Sean O'Brien
Sean O'Brien, last year's European Player of the Year, has been rather quiet since he returned from the World Cup in New Zealand. He gained many plaudits down under, and they know a good loose-forward when they see one. Among the many quotes doing the rounds during that tournament were that 'Sean O'Brien invented the giraffe when he gave a horse an uppercut' and that 'Superman wears Sean O'Brien pyjamas'! His recent under-par performances since then had belied those claims.

It seems O'Brien was just waiting for the biggest match of all to show his true self though. He bustled over for the first try of the game and then set off like a runaway train in the lead up to the second. Those first two tries settled any Leinster nerves and were the key influence behind their victory. NZ beware.... O'Brien and Ireland will be heading to the land of the long white cloud with a purpose in June.

What did you make of the final? 

Are Leinster now the greatest Heineken Cup side of all time or do they still have more to prove to receive that accolade?

Who is your Heineken Cup player of the tournament?

As always leave your opinion in the comments section!

If you enjoyed this article...you may enjoy the following posts too:

Harlequins vs Leicester - Aviva Premiership Final Preview (Click Here)
Irish Coaching Vacuum (Click Here)
Leinster vs Ulster - Heineken Cup Final Preview (Click Here)
Clermont vs Leinster - Heineken Cup Semi-Final Review (Click Here)


  1. Hey great article ... I was brought here via a post on the BBC website. In answer to your question 1: the final was superb great quality rugby from both teams ...im not a fan of either team but credit where credit is due Leinster play a beautiful brand of rugby .... Player of the tournament : J. Sexton purely for that blind pass against cardiff in the Q/F. umm are Leinster the best team in Heineken cup history??? umm not sure one thing I can say they play the most easy on the eye rugby for sure

    1. @ Chasing6Shadows

      I think the beauty of this Leinster side is that they don't rely on one or two players. On any given day they could have a couple of matchwinners. Sexton, Kearney, O'Driscoll, O'Brien.....the list goes on.

      Some of the stuff Leinster played against Cardiff was beautiful to watch. Sexton seems to have his critics for some reason but I think he's a quality fly half.

      I rate Priestland but I would be surprised if Sexton wasn't the starting 10 for the Lions next year.

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