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|
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|
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|
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|
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!
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