As another hugely successful season draws to a close, with a grand slam in the bag, Ireland ranked 2nd in the world and 2nd favourites to win next year’s world cup – we can still look forward to Leinster winning the European Champions Cup.
Leinster play Racing 92 of Paris in Bilbao (Spain) on Saturday 12th May. Kick off 16.45, Irish time.
Whilst Ulster failed to get to the knockout stages of the Champions Cup, Connacht got to the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup and Munster (yet again) reached the semi-finals of the Champions Cup where they lost to Racing.
Ulster’s well much-documented troubles aside – arguably things have never been better for Irish National and provincial rugby.
The ‘conveyor belt’, as the Dublin press like to refer to Leinster’s ability to produce prodigious numbers of new players seems to be rumbling again with players like Dan Leavy and James Ryan appearing from the schools’ system and not just ready for International rugby but seemingly able to dominate it.
Perhaps only Jacob Stockdale of Ulster being a comparable young talent to emerge from any of the other 3 provinces.
Leinster can boast more than 20 Irish international players in their squad and some excellent imports including New Zealander, James Lowe, man of the match in the semi-final against Scarlets, Scott Fardy and the evergreen club captain Isa Nacewa, who at 35 has decided to hang up his boots – with more than 180 appearances (by the end of the season) for Leinster and being regarded by many as the best overseas player Leinster have signed.(though some would argue for Aussie Rocky Elsom).
Leinster are as short as 1/6 favourites with Racing 12/5 – and money of course generally follows the form book. Racing who were favourites to beat Munster in the semi-final and did so fairly easily are well capable of upsetting the odds.
But it is difficult to see past Leinster equalling Toulouse’s record of 4 European cups.
It is the first time the Champions Cup final has been held outside of the countries of the six nations. The last time such a high profile Rugby game was held in Spain was in 2016 – when a world record crowd for a club match, of 99,111 turned up to the Nou Camp (Barcelona) to watch the Top 14 final, between Racing and Toulon.(which Racing won).
If there is a cloud on the horizon for Irish rugby it is that the Leinster ‘conveyor belt’ begins to dominate Irish rugby at the expense of the other provinces. The recent unsavoury exchange of views between Brian O’Driscoll and Jacob Stockdale where Ulster rugby was referred to as a ‘basket case’ on the back of this very difficult period is hopefully not a sign of things to come.
Success for one and the absence of it for others is not what is best for the international game or for ‘the 4 proud provinces of Ireland'(as the song goes).
So G’wan Leinster – but a different Irish winner next year please – to go along with at least our first visit to the semi-finals (or beyond) in next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“Heroes’ welcome for Grand Slam squad” is licensed under “Creative Commons”
Sammy Mc Nally is a Prod fictional character bestowed on us by James Young who accidentally kills his pal, who not suprisingly, given that it is Belfast, is also a Prod. The friend is sent to the after life place (Heaven/Hell) and finds it is an exact replica of Belfast – with one important difference – it is run entirely by Fenians and with the pope himself in residence in Stormo and it seems no sign of the Belgian quarefellah D’Hondt anywhere. To be continued…