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Leinster redefine Euro boundaries after third Heineken Cup triumph

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Bryn Palmer | 21:42 UK time, Saturday, 19 May 2012

So are Leinster now the greatest Heineken Cup team of all time?

It may have a been a hot topic among the blue hordes trooping deliriously out of Twickenham, after seeing their heroes win an unprecedented third European title in four years.

But it wasn't a question occupying the minds of the players who had just delivered a record-breaking margin of victory in the final of rugby's most passionately charged club competition.

No doubt when they reflect on their season's work a week on Monday, and start to contemplate what next year might hold, they might be persuaded to indulge in a little fantasy.

Leinster players celebrate winning their third Heineken Cup in four years (Getty images)

A 'home' Heineken Cup final at Dublin's Aviva Stadium, the possibility of equalling Toulouse's record haul of four titles. The perfect motivation to re-scale the heights?

For the next seven days at least though, the need to confirm their status as the best team in the RaboDirect Pro 12 league, having finished top by 10 points after the regular season, will be the prime goal, with the Ospreys awaiting them in next Sunday's final at their Royal Dublin Showground home.

Last year Leinster followed up their remarkable Heineken Cup victory over Northampton by losing to provincial rivals Munster in the final of their domestic competition. It didn't go down well.

"We have an opportunity now to do something special," said full-back Rob Kearney, as if their five-try, record 42-14 dismantling of Ulster, did not deserve such consideration.

"We have worked really hard in the 'Rabo' [Pro 12] this year, it has been a full squad effort. If we can achieve that win, it could be more of a testament to Leinster rugby than this week."

And therein perhaps lies the secret of their success, and why it is likely to continue.
Leinster have used 49 players in their domestic campaign. The tremendous strength in depth of the local talent coming through, blended into a thriving and successful structure, allows the top-of-the-bill acts like Kearney to take a rest periodically, and peak for the big occasions.

But the big names appreciate the hard yards done in their absence, and want to do their bit in return.

But let's just consider "this week" first.

Saturday's stunning rout - which was harsh on Ulster, but a rout nonetheless - means that since the start of the 2008-2009 season, Leinster have won 28 and drawn two of their 35 Heineken Cup matches, losing only one - to Toulouse in the 2010 semis - in the knock-out stages.

Since losing to Clermont away in the group stages last season, they are undefeated in their last 15 Heineken matches, winning 14 of them.

Statistically, Toulouse remain out front, with four titles from six finals. But strangely, the game in which the French aristocrats lifted the spirits most was in one of the finals they lost to Wasps in 2004.

That was perhaps the last time Twickenham witnessed such an uplifting brand of attacking rugby from a club side, with due respect to the demolition job Wasps did on Leicester in 2007.

Wasps, with a 100% record from their two Heineken finals, also had a completeness about them in terms of power, tactical nous and cussedness, but perhaps not quite the same attacking brio.

Munster made the knock-out stages for 12 years in a row from 2000, winning two of their four finals, and reaching five other semi-finals, a phenomenally consistent sequence.

Leicester, whose five finals are second only to Toulouse, were the only previous side to have successfully defended the trophy.

But Leinster are rapidly re-defining the boundaries of ambition for Europe's leading club sides.

When it was put to coach Joe Schmidt that his charges had perhaps converted every try-scoring opportunity they created (their five tries was another final record), it wasn't a prospect the genial New Zealander seemed comfortable with.

Heinke Van Der Merwe scored the fourth of Leinster's record five tries

"I'm happy we got five tries, but I'll have to look at the video. I'm sure I'll find something," he said.

This relentless pursuit of perfection and improvement means it is unlikely the "dynasty" that Brian O'Driscoll alluded to afterwards will end anytime soon.

Ulster, for their part, were as defiant after the match as they had been for large parts during it. They had their chances to make it a closer game, but didn't take them.

Against Leinster - "If you give them an inch, they take a mile; they are an exceptional rugby side," noted Brian McLaughlin, ruefully - that proved fatal.

The departing coach was insistent the players he bequeaths - if such a term is appropriate when you have been removed from your post - to New Zealander Mark Anscombe will learn sufficiently swiftly to "make sure that days like this are the norm for Ulster rugby, not the exception."

With two former Ulster players - Lions wing Tommy Bowe and Northampton number eight Roger Wilson - returning to the ranks next season, they should be stronger. This may not have been their only shot at glory.

It is only natural a player nurtured in the culture of a particular club or province has a particular interest in seeing that team become successful, as Leinster captain Leo Cullen - the first man to lift the Heineken Cup three times - alluded to.

"I was at Leicester for a while and I learnt a huge amount and I loved playing for them," he said. "But there is something special about playing for a team that you grew up supporting. To have success with this team means the most to me."

Were Ulster naïve to think they could take Leinster on at their own game and win?

Most observers felt the underdogs' best hope of victory lay in making it a dogfight.
The trouble is, Leinster - as they showed in their semi-final win against Clermont in Bordeaux - are not the sort of side to be bullied into submission.

As soon as it became apparent that Ulster were keen to play an expansive game themselves, there looked to be only winner, and so it proved.

Ulster's high-tempo attacking game put them under pressure for periods, but crucially - Dan Tuohy's second-half try aside when they were already 24-9 up - Leinster's scramble defence was equal to it.

Would a predominantly territorial kicking game have proved any more successful? As McLaughlin noted, when Leinster have Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa as their gate-keepers, both superb under the high ball and devastating on the counter-attack, why would you play to their strengths?

And then of course, they have Brian O'Driscoll. This latest addition to his growing legend came eight days after he "had a little cartilage trimmed" from his knee. Wouldn't a coach be within his rights to question whether his prized centre could really be 100% fit, given such a limited recovery time?

"The fact he is so mentally tough means you don't have to get too concerned about him," Schmidt told BBC Sport. "You just know he is going to turn up and play."
A bit like Leinster themselves.

And right now, they are playing better than anyone else in Europe has possibly ever done.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant stuff from the lads. I think if you combine the fact that they have played brilliant Rugby consistently my AND have the silverware to reward their efforts, this Leinster squad must be considered the best team that European club rugby has seen. Yes Toulouse have four, but to win 3 in 4 years is truly remarkable, and with a Dublin final next year, I wouldn't put a 4th win in 5 past them...
    It's wonderful to finally see the team and the fans getting their rewards after years of watching our southern rivals get all the praise!

  • Comment number 2.

    Leinster really showed their class with a fine blend of skilful attacking rugby and ruthless defence. BOD certainly showed he still has all the magic. Surely they have proved themselves to be the best team in recent times (if not all time!)

  • Comment number 3.

    This year's Heineken cup confirms what most of us already knew, the Celtic league is where all of the expansive, attacking rugby is played. The French may have all of the money, but the real entertainment is served up by the Celtic teams and is in stark contrast to the stodge served up week after week in the Premiership. Well done Leinster!

  • Comment number 4.

    You'd have given us some insight/ illumination if you'd asked WHY are they the greatest team in Heineken Cup history? Ie looked at their fantastic academy/ no salary cap/ excellent coach recruitment/ centrally contracted players etc...

  • Comment number 5.

    There are special moments when you watch any sport that all you can do is just gasp in wonder. Think Zidane's goal in the 2002 champion's league final. They usually come along once in a while and you find that no matter how many times you watch them over you never get tired of seeing someone doing something that defies logic. The true measure of this Leinster side is that they seem to have one of these golden moments every other game. Brian O'Driscoll's offload yesterday was one. Johnny Sexton's no-look pass in the quarter final was another. But they also have the grunt to back up the grace. They are not a side that plays some fancy stuff but lose the big matches when it matters.

    Forget the statistics (even though they would still have the bragging rights with 3 in 4)-The real quality of this team is the way they play and based on that alone IMO they are by far and away the greatest HC side that ever was.

  • Comment number 6.

    @ Hugh

    It is much easier to have a league full of open expansive rugby when there is no threat of relegation and HC qualification is pretty much guaranteed for the top sides.

    I read of a Celtic League game earlier in the season, following a HC pool weekend, where the two teams between them only played one or two from their previous weeks sides in their matchday squads! No English, or even French, side has the resources to do that, and they can't afford to if they want to qualify for the following season's HC.

    Congratulations to Leinster on a well deserved win, as they are the best team in Europe now, but the playing field between the three leagues is far from level.

  • Comment number 7.

    @Lee - "No English, or even French, side has the resources to do that, and they can't afford to if they want to qualify for the following season's HC"

    Each league has their own cross to bear. The playing numbers in Ireland, Wales, Scotland & Italy added together are a fraction of those in France, never mind England. This is the reason why the Celtic League was formed and to even suggest that English / French rugby do not have the resources is nonsense.

    French rugby want to increase the number of top tier teams to 16 and spread their "resources" even thinner. The English would like to restrict the Celtic League to 8 Heino teams, thus killing off Scottish & Italian competition and probably send 3 clubs & 2 top tier nations into complete meltdown (Aironi, Treviso, Edinburgh & The Dragons would lose out this year).

    If the Celtic League introduced relegation / promotion, where would you suggest the extra clubs come from? There are none, and any type of meddling with structure of the Celtic League or Heineken Cup will only add to the elitism that currently exists in European rugby.

    Salary Caps? A properly run business will control it's own salary caps. England and France require salary caps because their are so many ambitious clubs that will over finance themselves in the belief that success is around the corner. The same problem does not exist in Ireland or Wales because the unions can barely scrape 4 clubs together. Scotland and Italy barely put out 2.

    Bide your time, England and France. The Irish are on a high at the moment but it will NOT last forever - mark my words. Leicester, Toulouse, Northampton and Clermont will all get their moment of glory again.

  • Comment number 8.

    The greatest European club teams in order (top 5):

    1.Leinster
    2.Toulose
    3.London Wasps
    4.Leicester
    5.Munster

  • Comment number 9.

    The arguments for and against each league don't stack up and also have nothing to do with how good this side is. 2010 was an all French final and last year Northampton made the final. On any given day, each team has a realistic chance of beating the other (look at the Italian teams taking the occasional French scalp). But this Leinster side is a class apart from every other team around at the moment.

  • Comment number 10.

    Lee comment 6 - why is every time a rabo team does well all we here about is no relegation and salary cap. Leinster finished 10 points clear, even if there was relegation it would not matter and I would be amazed if they have a salary bill of a scale given to the premiership clubs plus the french have no salary cap and were still beat so i thing your arguments lack any backing

  • Comment number 11.

    'Cool Calm and...' er mis-calculated I think you'll find. LONDON WASPS third in your all time top 5?? I don't think so!! Try putting back to back titles and 5 finals into your gas powered calculator and the result will be Leicester way above the bankrupt relegation candidates.

  • Comment number 12.

    I think there is merit in calling this Leinster side the best in Heineken Cup History.

    For all their brilliance in attack though under Joe Schmidt (who must be an All Black coach in waiting), I think the foundations of their success have been built as much around perspiration as inspiration.

    Ulster weren't all that bad yesterday. They looked dangerous at times, but Leinster's defence continuously shut them down or made turnovers at crucial times. When you then add their ruthlessness on attack, you have a fine side.

    O'Driscoll showed he still has it while Kearney could arguably be given the tag of best Full Back in the World (although i'm sure southern hemishere readers will dispute that). O'Brien was absolutely immense. He seems to always pefrom on the big occasions too (a bit like Drogba last night).

    With the final in Dublin next year, I wouldn't bet against Leinster makinging it 4 in 5 years either!

    There is a really great write up on the final on dumptackle's rugby blog for anyone interested:

    http://www.dumptackle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/leinster-vs-ulster-heineken-cup-final_20.html

  • Comment number 13.

    Everyone seems to have forgotten the one intangible element that all great sides seem to have: Luck. Leinster only made the final by the skin of their teeth, if Wesley whatshisname hadn't lost control of the ball over the line, or had slightly less developed biceps (that was what knocked the ball out of his grasp) in the semi final then Leinster would have been watching the final back home. Still as I said all great teams make have their fair share of luck and Leinster are well worth their cup victory and to be called the greatest HC team. Greatest club? probably not yet but defiantly the greatest side.

    A great club is like Toulouse, Munster or Leicester, clubs that regularly make the finals with different teams from different eras, if in five, ten years time Leinster win a few more cups with a relatively new team then they will earn the title greatest 'club' in HC history

  • Comment number 14.

    @ Dave. It's true there was an element of luck in that semi. Arguablt that semi-final was Leinster's final. It was their toughest match for sure. The fact that Leinster came out on top (luck or no luck) was a testament to the side thoug has everyone knows Clermont are almost unbeatable at home (I know it was played in Bordeaux but it was effectively a home game givven all the parrochial support).

    http://dumptackle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/leinster-vs-ulster-heineken-cup-final_20.html

  • Comment number 15.

    @8 surely Munster's consistency puts them higher than 5th!! and don't forget they could have a 3rd win if it wasn't for the Hand Of Neilback.

    No doubting though that Leinster and are the best club side in Europe for the last 4 years and probably the World.

  • Comment number 16.

    to badooby

    Please note that I referred to the 'greatest' and not present, best European team therefore Wasps' relegation problem should not really influence any successes they have had in the past.

    and secondly Leicester's two Heineken cup successes have come against Stade Francais and Munster in 2000 - 2001, and 2001 -2002 respectively, of which only Munster I will recognise as being of decent opposition, however this final was played out in Cardiff which is hardly the fortress, Thomond Park, for which Munster's success has been most apparent at........WHERE AS, Wasps’ success have occurred not only more recently but have also been played against Toulouse (arguably the most successful club in European history) and Leicester the latter of which occurred in the 2007 season where Leicester did not even manage to score a single try.

    Also note that it was only last year in the Heineken cup, that wasps beat Toulouse. When was the last time that Leicester beat a; Toulouse, Leinster or Munster?

    and that their bottom to last premiership season was due predominantly to their massive injury list (including: Dan ward smith, Joe worsley, Tom Rees, Steve Thomson, John Hart, all of which suffered permanent injuries during the season and the injuries of: Rob Webber, Christian Wade, Tom Varndell, Joe Simpson, Marco Wentzel and many others who suffered injuries which caused them to miss large chunks of the season) as well as the loss of the owner and the fear of entering administration.
    The fact that Wasps pulled through this season and were able to focus on their rugby over the fear of their rugby playing futures at the club is therefore testament to their determination and passion for the game.
    It is seasons like this that show how great a club truly is!

  • Comment number 17.

    @6 - aw please don't cry! classic example of sour grapes.
    Edinburgh got to the Semi's and they probably a quarter of the resources of Northampton or whatever English team.
    'but the playing field between the 3 leagues is far from level.' true, because Rabo teams are just so much better than the defensive English sides ;) Ulster and Edinburgh could not get into the league play-offs yet managed to get to the final and semi respectively, this is not because they 'rested' players, it is because, and especially Edinburgh, all of their players are basically Scottish internationals so they were on 6N duty, World Cup duty. hence why they finished so lowly. if English teams couldn't afford to rest their players, well, for half of the season most of them were away on international duty and they seemed to cope just fine? same old in the top 4 anyway haha.
    ALSO. if i was not mistaken, only one team get relegated? not half of the league! haha. the team who are in a relegation scrap are unlikely to be in the Heineken Cup anyway, and perhaps one other team may be involved in this dogfight.
    rule one in sport- don't fear losing. oh wait, that is something the English Rugby team are particuarly good at..... must be because of that relegation ;)

  • Comment number 18.

    @PhilB87. please dont miss understand, Leinster were well worth their both in the semi and the cup overall, but only the most one eyed fan wouldn't admit that there was a huge slice of luck that Wesley lost control of the ball after he'd done all the hard work. My point was that all great teams from any sport seem to have a few bits of luck on their way to titles, think of the chelsea miss during penalties to give man utd the chance to win the champions league in 08, or when vettel won his first world title, if ferrari hadn't messed up then he wouldn't have won the title, or Rob howleys winning try in the HC in 04.

    In all those cases 9 times out of 10 the mistakes wouldn't have happened that lead to victory, but all thoses teams/people were great in their own way.

    I guess the point I was trying to get across is all great sides/sports people have 'luck' so there must be some connection between being great and getting slices of good fortune but its intangible, its not something you can work on in training, and it's something that is often overlooked when analyzing teams performances.

  • Comment number 19.

    @Dave.

    Agreed with you on the whole luck etc...


    I think it's a case of the top players make their own luck in a sense. In the case of Fofana's knock on...yes he could have scored...but then again it was Leinster's last ditch tackle which made it difficult for him. If he had come up against the Auckland Blues9 the team I support), Fofana would have made it over the line at a canter!

    http://www.dumptackle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/leinster-vs-ulster-heineken-cup-final_20.html

  • Comment number 20.

    I think people should be careful about what they call a 'club side'

    There aren't any Welsh, Scottish or Irish club sides in the Heineken Cup which is a shame and I think it devalues the competition as we get this debate every time about how the Irish and Welsh have been trying to engineer Heineken Cup success by manipulating their infrastructure.

    As for playing numbers, Rugby is the Welsh national sport so they should have no problems finding enough players. Rugby is not the English national sport by a considerable margin.

    The Leinster side are clearly a great team but best club side in Europe this year is Clermont Auvergne.

    Leinster have had some luck. The 2009 final against Leicester where they won by just 3 points against a side that due to injury did not have a recognised fly half in their 22 and had played and won a tough Premiership final the weekend before.

    Against Northampton in the 2011 final Northampton had just played a tough Premiership semi final away to Leicester the weekend before and were clearly exhausted by the second half.

    The Rabo system is designed for Heineken Cup success, the Premiership and Top 14 are not.

    If asked would I rather have my club demoted to second tier Rugby in order to create a region that can win a Heineken Cup but I only get to see top level Rugby with first team players at home in less than a dozen matches a season, or would I prefer to keep the current club system where I get a dozen or more games a season of top level Rugby on my doorstep but run the risk of not progressing in a tournament that has a maximum of four home games a season anyway? I think I know which I would pick every time.

    As for the Leicester/Wasps debate:

    Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings both learned their trade at Leicester and have made a huge difference to the Leinster side.

    I think people should be careful about trying to devalue the first Heineken Cup win for Leicester which included a final against Stade Francais in PARIS.

    The final against Wasps in 2007 came after Leicester had just played in and won a premiership final in which Wasps did not take part.

    I would also add the 8 successive Premiership finals including finishing top of the Premiership table in three successive years and missing out on top sport this year only by two points to the recemt Leicester record.

    Then theire is the five years unbeaten at home that Leicester achieved in the early part of this Millenium.

    As for recent results against Toulouse, Munster and Leinster:

    Fri 20 Aug 2010 Munster 13 Leicester 17
    Fri 27 Aug 2010 Leicester 37 Leinster 14
    Fri 28th Aug 2009 Leicester 34 Munster 28
    Sat 19th Jan 2008 Leicester 25 Leinster 9
    Sat 8th Dec 2007 Leicester 14 Toulouse 9
    Sat 20th Jan 2007 Munster 6 Leicester 13

  • Comment number 21.

    @7 BOD4Taoiseach

    The English clubs do not have the resources in terms of playing staff they can fund within the salary cap, it has nothing to do with the number of people playing rugby in England.

    My club, Gloucester, simply couldn't afford a 49 man playing squad and to rotate them so the "First" XV rest between HC games as they would be candidates for relegation by the end of the season.

    Being able to run such a large squad must be an advantage as the can rest players, if it isn't an advantage why have such large squads in the first place as they all obviously wouldn't be needed.

    @ 17 indahood193193

    It isn't a case of "sour grapes" at all. My club weren't good enough to get out of the group stages and I've no problem with that. But to cite your examples of Edinburgh and Ulster; where did Edinburgh finish in the Rabo this year? 11th out of 12 and yet they are guaranteed to be in the HC next season. That allows them to prioritise the HC which they did very successfully.

    I think if HC qualification in the Rabo was the top six, as in England, I think you would see a very different league and it would be much more defensive.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bob @20

    Are you seriously quoting results from friendly games in a list to prove Leicester greatness. (3 out of the 6 are pre season)

    Lee @21

    the 2 points that I made regarding resources and salary caps were 2 very different and separate points and should not be confused.

    1. Leinster's salary cap is higher than Ulster's for example because they generate a higher income and can afford to pay more players at a higher rate of pay. Also, due the the success of the provinces recently, the IRFU has a bigger budget for centrally contracted players. Should the success dry up, I guarantee that the salaries will reduce very quickly too.

    2. The playing resources within each country dictate the number of clubs that can viably operate at the top table. Ireland has had the provincial system long before the Heineken Cup or professionalism. If the AIL was the top competition in Ireland and the clubs were entered into the Heineken Cup, Irish International players would end up playing in the Premiership or Top14 and you can rename the Heineken Cup the Anglo-French Cup.

  • Comment number 23.

    So Northampton were exhausted in 2011? Leinster played a tough semi-final last week as well, against Glasgow. 11 of their starters in that game started again yesterday. They didn't look exhausted. This is one of the more pathetic English excuses.

  • Comment number 24.

    Bob@20

    '3 out of 6 pre season' haha that truly defines Leicester greatness..... I mean wasps beat Munster in their pre season this year, but I still dont quote that game to show their quality because as we all know, it is very rare you see a 'premeirship/heineken cup' xv starting in a pre season, you will be lucky to see even 2 regular starters.

    How about this for a record -
    Heineken cup (1996/1997 season) Wasps 77 - Toulose 7

    The record for the highest points scored by a club in the heineken cup...

  • Comment number 25.

    Hahaha. Toulouse? Aristocrats? Since when? Ever been here - except to see a rugby match? I have. Been here over four years. Aristocrats the Toulousains AREN'T. If you're going to try and insult the most successful European rugby club, at least talk to someone with an above average IQ first.

  • Comment number 26.

    Bob

    I am genuinely embarassed for you after that comment. As other people have said, how can you use friendly results to try and prove that point?

    You can't ignore the population issue. The fact that rugby isn't England's national sport is irrelevant, because after football it's the most popular, in a country of nearly 50 million people. Rugby is the 4th most popular sport in Ireland, a country of 6.4 million people. If, as you ridiculously suggested on another blog yesterday, England formed provinces, the London province you advocated would have about 10 times the population of Leinster. It's clear you would prefer an Anglo-French cup, but it won't happen any time soon buddy.

    And what suits your ideals of a 'club' side better? A team in which 12 of the starting 15 have come through the academy, like Leinster, or a team like Clermont, who are the 'best club' in Europe thanks to more foreign players than Leinster have?

  • Comment number 27.

    Some of you on here seriously need to get a sense of humour. My listing of the friendly results was a tongue in cheek answer to a ridiculous question.

    Yes Northampton were visibly exhausted after the Semi final against Leicester, it was an extremely tough physical match. One of the most physical games that I have ever been to watch and a local derby that had a lot of importance. Did you go to the game?

    I was also at the Heineken Cup Final the next weekend and the intensity of play by Northampton in that match was a lot less than in the semi final. Northampton were clearly tired.

    Yes Ireland had provinces before the Heineken Cup but they also had clubs.
    England also had a regional competition before the Heineken Cup but as it is a Rugby Club competition they have entered clubs.

    Population sizes are irrelevant, it is a club competition and should be for clubs.

    You can try to justify it as much as you like but the Leinster victories have been as engineered as Man City winning the Premier League has.

    For the record I did not advocate a London region or an English regional structure, I am opposed to regions and provinces. I merely gave an example of what would happen if they did have regions which is the same as what has happened as a result of the Irish provinces entering the Heineken cup and is as you said 'ridiculous'.

  • Comment number 28.

    Bob, you wanna be careful of your engine when you slam it into reverse so hard. I think I speak for all of us on this forum (even the Leicester supporters) when I say "tongue in cheek answer my a**!"

  • Comment number 29.

    Winning a European competition playing sensational attacking rugby, with a team predominantly made up of players brought through the youth system?

    Man City isn't the team you're thinking of, it's Barcelona.

    Regarding Northampton last year, I completely agree about the physicality of the semi they played against Leicester. However, the way they approached the final against Leinster was then extremely naive - why play at very high intensity right from the whistle when tiredness in the second half is inevitable? Keep it solid, stay in the game and look to win it in the second half. No excuses for them in my eyes.

    You may disagree with provinces, but without them Irish rugby would be in the doldrums. Rugby isn't as popular in the big cities, especially in the North - Derry is the fourth biggest city in Ireland yet it's club team isn't even in the top division, because the numbers just aren't there.

    If the province system means we can watch enjoyable rugby from the Celtic nations on a regular basis, instead of the head-down and smash 'em approach from the majority of the English clubs, then that's a very good thing.

  • Comment number 30.

    It's a shame that a brilliant team performance by a great Leinster side ends up in a
    which country is best discussion but ironically I'm now going to add to it.

    But nothing should take away from a fantastic performance by a great team.

    However currently it's pointless comparing Rabo12 with the Premiership and Top14.

    Except at the business end of the season seldom do Leinster, Munster or even
    Edinburgh field the same side in the Rabo as they do in the Henieken Cup & Rabo12
    playoffs - argue it all you want but it's essentially two different teams competing
    over the course of the season.

    Hence the Northampton were tired argument holds up. Top flight English based players 22 league games + playoffs, Heineken Cup Pool and Knock out stages on top of that. Top14 based players even more.

    RE: They only play running rugby in the RABO argument is a fallacy. Leinster are the
    only team in Europe who play this brand of rugby and that's because they have a
    Super 15 coach at the helm in Smidt, they are so far out ahead of the other Rabo
    teams it's not even fair anymore.

    You should also look at the inetnsity of the games, and bar the top teams meeting their is little intensity in the Rabo12 and thus it's easier to play running rugby.

    It's not excuses, it's just the truth - and English teams and the English structure
    are off the pace at the moment compared to the top irish teams, but they will come good again - lets not forget plenty of rabo teams got knocked out as well.

    The whole playing numbers argument is a false positive as well, it's about exposure
    to top flight rugby and it's not like thousands of English or French players are
    getting exposed to HC rugby as a result of having a larger playing pool.

    More importantly the Celtic nations players are consistently exposed to HC standard
    rugby each year as they do not have to qualify, whereas there is no guarantee for
    the Aviva and Top 14 players as it all depends on qualification. Therefore the same
    players are consistently exposed to HC levels regardless of what goes on
    domestically.

    Whatever way you spin it at the moment the HC favours the top Rabo teams because they can pick and choose their rugby.

    Simply put for it to be fair it should be:
    Top 4 from Aviva, Top 14 & Rabo - HC - two pools of 6, top 4 into semis.
    Middle from Aviva, Top 14 & Rabo - Amlin - two pools of 6, top 4 into semis.
    Bottom four from Aviva, Top 14 & Rabo - B&I cup Expanded* two pools of 6, top 4 into
    semis.

    *Bottom four from Top 14 no European rugby.

  • Comment number 31.

    Congratulations Leinster. One of the great teams in the history of the game without a doubt.

    It's a bit of a shame that folk use even this celebratory blog to wheel out the player numbers argument again...and again. Last time I looked, both teams are only allowed 15 men on the pitch. The fact that the Irish set-up appears to allow the best resources to be held back for the big matches must be a help, but it can hardly be the deciding factor. Leinster are simply a good team and rugby fans should recognise and celebrate that!

    If I was to make and observation on the English set-up (can't speak for others) it would be about the incredible waste of talent and potential. There are plenty of good players...possibly too many...more than the system can nurture and develop. As in other sports the Academies and the County set-up cast the net very narrowly to a small number of schools and key clubs. Go to the wrong school or play at the wrong club and you could be Jonny Wilkinson and you won't get a look-in versus youngsters with coaches or parents with an inside track.

    England have a huge number of players on paper. The reality is that only a small fraction of that are actually ever in contention.

  • Comment number 32.

    As an Ulsterman I'd like to congratulate Leinster on their win on Saturday even if the final score was flattering to them. They did deserve the win and it was a great match for all the neutral viewers too.

    Ulster are very much a work in progress and it was fantastic to get to the final but no consolation. Here's hoping that the loss on Saturday will be very much a motivating factor throughout the next 12 months and we will be back at the Aviva next May for another final.

    There's been a lot said too about Brian McLaughlin, I.E. "if such a term is appropriate when you have been removed from your post" but he hasn't been kicked out as many people think. Brian is taking over the Academy and his fantastic skills and development capabilities will be put to great use there. As rightly said above this is one of the strengths of Leinster and Ulster will be far better off from having Brian leading a very talented pool of youngsters.

    There are no sour grapes over here (BOB, please take note) and all of Ireland is cheering for Leinster in the Rabo final next weekend. They won the league by a mile so there is no way we want to see the Ospreys taking the title from them.

  • Comment number 33.

    When you read posts like those from Bob and goodnumbner10, it really does make the win even sweeter........... and I support Munster!

    Keep sucking those Lemons Bob! Slurp!

  • Comment number 34.

    The fact is that Ireland have focused their game so that they can win the Heinikan cup and it has worked, a measure of congratulations is in order. If English and French clubs did similar, this recent domination would soon come to an end.

    Jerry Guscot and Stuart Barnes try to convice viewers that it is because of some inate superiority of the Irish game as this makes them more content that Bath's consistant failure is a result of inferiority shared with the superior teams that beat their club on a weekly basis and they gain comfort from this.

    Every team facing an Irish province is facing a combination of Irelend, and their 'A' team, shored up by highly paid southern hemesphere stars.

    But given that, Leinster were the best team.

  • Comment number 35.

    GM Massingbird

    "Every team facing an Irish province is facing a combination of Irelend, and their 'A' team, shored up by highly paid southern hemesphere stars".

    Yawn. Once again, Leinster only had three SH players in the starting 15 on Saturday - 37 year old Brad Thorn was one, as was Richardt Strauss, who has never been capped by South Africa. Nacewa is the only stellar SH player, and he's been at Leinster since 2008 so it's not as if he's been shipped in this season.

  • Comment number 36.

    So how does that invalidate my quite fairly and complimentory assesment of Leinster's truimph?

    I did miss out the fact that also Irish support is concentrated into these provinces giving them a very healthy budget, and that has been well applied.

    Please 'Phlegm Bombs' (?) help me improve on this assesment.

  • Comment number 37.

    I simply dont believe that the lack of English and French involvement in the cup is because of the intenseness of their leagues.

    This is just a simple scapegoat and doesnt make sense.

    Why would the national mangers of England, Wales, Ireland etc drag their countries over to the Southern Hemisphere? They do it because they recognise the Tri nations and the club league is more intense and want to get the home nations up to their standard.

    The fact was our clubs werent good enough this year and need to play whts in fron to of them

  • Comment number 38.

    Because the 'only there because of their foreign stars' argument which is (rightfully) aimed at Ulster simply can't be levelled at Leinster.

    I think a point often missed is the loyalty of Irish players, obviously helped by the central contracts I admit, but O'Driscoll could have made a lot more money going to France in 2007, at a time when Leinster didn't look like they had the nous to win anything. He stayed and got his reward. Northampton were the first English team for a few years that genuinely excited me, full of English internationals, yet Chris Ashton can't make up his differences with his coach and moves to Saracens, the purveyors of negative rugby and where his talents won't be as useful? Madness, and must be hugely frustrating for those who want English clubs to do well in Europe again.

  • Comment number 39.

    'only there because of their foreign stars' I never said that, and Leinster has been 'shored up' by them, consistantly hat 3 top southern hemisphere players, as have Munster, Craig Dowd, Rocky Elsom, Doug Howlet, back a little further there is Cullen.

  • Comment number 40.

    But the core of all three squads has come from the top 30 players in Ireland, English clubs, all have players that come from far outside the top 30 English players, maybe even the top 100.

  • Comment number 41.

    In my opinion the longer the french teams fail to win the heinken cup the BETTER.

    As unfortunatley, in my opinion, there ever increasing salary cap, is just causing the future demise of all other clubs in the heineken cup, most clubs simply cannot compete (excluding leinster, munster, leicester at the moment) just look at the welsh clubs and the outflow of players they are currently experiencing, ironically most of these players are going to the french clubs themselves.
    However I fear that in the near future we may as well call the heineken cup the top 14, if the french clubs salary continues to rise!

    So therfore for as long Leinster or any other British Club team continues to win the heineken cup the happy I will be. (A far fetched statement, i know, but this is a genuine problem facing european rugby)

  • Comment number 42.

    What a load of crap with this tired and too much resources etc excuses, as far as i remember leinster also had a very hard game the week before the northampton final and fielded the same players, also there was a full week to recover from both games! What more do you want? A month recovery? Are you saying that the large english and french teams dont have big squads full of international players? As if these large english teams competing in the HC are in dire danger of relegation at all times, there not

    Also this province thing, there are 4 teams competing in ireland, which is about exactly right for its size etc, so get a grip,

  • Comment number 43.

    @ GM Massingbird
    You argument is pointless as these top 30 Irish players are all trained by Leinster. They make these 30 players in their academy and schools systems. There is not simply an automatic pool of 30 players for each country. The fact that every club in england can't produce the same quality and quality of player.

  • Comment number 44.

    3. At 07:39 20th May 2012, Hugh wrote:
    "This year's Heineken cup confirms what most of us already knew, the Celtic league is where all of the expansive, attacking rugby is played."

    Sadly predictable, a blog about Leinster's fantastic achievement of 3 titles in 4 seasons, and within 3 posts there is somebody indulging in childish point scoring. It wasn't the Celtic league that won the HEC, it was Leinster.

    Not sure about them being the best ever, probably depends on your criteria, but they certainly confirmed themselves as one of the great European sides.

  • Comment number 45.

    @31- Hear here!

    @29- I think the Barcelona of rugby is the perfect way to describe this Leinster side. Both sides have redefined the way their sport should be played- harrying defence and incredibly accurate & fast passing resulting in attacking play that is a joy to behold.

  • Comment number 46.

    I honestly think it's ridiculous that English members are claiming on this site that a 'certain' match was harder than another the week before so players would be more tired than others. Anyone who has played competitive sport knows that with 40 minutes to go to to 'immortality' tiredness really isn't a factor. It was simply that when Eoin Redden came on and the pace sped up Northampton weren't good enough.

    What people also don't realise is that of those 49 players that took part in the Rabo this year at least 10 of them were academy players, being barely paid more than 5 grand a year. The player base in of professional players in England is 10 times if not more than Ireland, it is the quality of these plyers, the coaching they recieve and the skill set that they posses that makes them better than the English and French clubs.

    English rugby needs to look inwards at the way players are being coached from a young age, stop relying on size and face the fact that the way Leinster are playing is the way froward.

  • Comment number 47.

    It's not one game but the accumulative of playing. Ore competitive rugby over a long season.

    Anyone who has ACTUALLY played top flight sport understands the accumulative tiredness from playing week in week out for over 10months.

    Yes Leinster had a hard game last week, but they have NOT played the same squad week in week out over the course of the season. And yes they have played a lot of academy players, but then when you play in a league with no relegation and no HC qualification you can do what you want.

    That doesn't demean leinsters achievement in anyway, they are by far the best team in Europe playing great rugby but it does put into perspective the claims that the RABO12 is better than the avila and top 14 - when half the system it's a B league and the big guns only get game time in the HC.

    People need to go back and check team sheets the weekends following HC pool games and see how many players backed up.

  • Comment number 48.

    Hilarious stuff from the English, as usual on this blog.
    One thing stands out, for me, when discussing the relative strengths of Irish rugby versus the rest is recruitment of foreign players and where they choose to either enhance their skills or see out their careers.

    While the likes of Cullen, Jennings and G. Murphy, who have never been first choice Internationals, went to Leicester as part of their development, that isn't happening now. You currently have players like Stringer, O'Leary and Humphries, being somewhat surplus too requirements in Ireland, going across the water to see out their time.

    Players such as De Villers, Elsom and Howlett came to Ireland in their prime. While money is an issue for these players, the major reason they give for coming is because of the success and the quality of rugby being played by Irish sides.

    As has been alluded to here before, whether they are provinces, regions or clubs with names like Dynamo Dublin, Belfast Bruisers or Cork Crusaders, it matters not a jot. They are clubs that have to draw from a much smaller population. They are just doing it better.

    The relentless stream of excuses emanating from England is just getting tiresome. It’s patently obvious that your teams are just not good enough. If your top teams can’t put together a decent squad that can challenge on all fronts, with the player base that you have, whose problem is that? And if you think that introducing relegation into the Pro12 will give your teams a better chance, dream on.

    England have the players, it’s the organisation that’s the problem. Put your own house in order before criticizing anyone else’s. Ten years ago we had to listen to talk of England and France breaking away and joining the other big boys in the SH and we did something about it.

    Pointing out that Leinster were lucky is churlish in the extreme. Leinster were in control of that semi-final and if it hadn’t been for half the width of a post and a butchered try opportunity by an otherwise majestic Kearney, they would have been out of sight long before Clermont’s Last ditch, kitchen sink effort.

    Last year Northampton had an easy ride to the final. They went off like a cheap firework and as soon as Leinster worked out that they were boring in at the scrum they dealt with them accordingly and saw the game out like the true champions that they are.

    Whether Leinster are considered to be the greatest European team ever or not…I couldn’t care less. I just enjoy watching them and the fact that they are winning. While the national team are not performing at the moment, with the quality on display at Twickenham, on both sides, the tide will surely turn for Ireland.

  • Comment number 49.

    Really sad that this discussion always goes down the nationalistic route.

    Leinster are e best team in Europe.... At the moment.
    Whoever wins the HC next year, the team that wins next year......

    World cup years are not abreast barometer in this kind of discussion but it's a waste of time trying to add caviates to the bare fact that they are the champions.

    With regard to who are the best 'all time'. Can you really compare some of the early victories by teams like Northampton, Toulouse, wasps and Leicester to winnig the competition now, teams take it sooooo much more seriously. Also, until the French teams understand that the BIG prize is Europe and not their national competition, you're never going to see the true strength of some of those teams.

    (English)

  • Comment number 50.

    Heineken Cup is old news!! Who's going to win the Aviva Premiership this weekend?

    I think most neutrals will be supporting Quins for their enterprising play this year, but I have a feeling Leicester will be lifting aloft the trophy. Tuilagi to get the match-winning try!

    There's a really good preview of the game on the link below. It's the only one I have found so far.

    http://dumptackle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/harlequins-vs-leicester-aviva.html

  • Comment number 51.

    The whole argument about who is the greatest HC side ever is really a question of opinion, and for me it's difficult to choose between Leinster and Toulouse. As a Leinster fan what has been pleasing is to have seen the team consistently progress over the last 5 years.

    Not so long ago Leinster were rightly criticised for playing some nice stuff but being too soft when it came to the physical aspect or to closing out tough games. Munster were the masters of those areas and Leinster regularly rolled over when the two sides met. However, when Cheika came in that all started to change and Schmidt has taken the side on and made them into an even more fearsome outfit.

    That shouldn't be forgotten when speaking about Leinster's first HC win and the fact that they were dealing with huge expectation but also a bit of reputation as always being the bridesmaids, and were coming up against regular winners/finalists in Leicester. They ground out the win and deserced the title. One of the excuses made in a previous post was that Leicester had no recognised fly-half. Perhaps it should be remembered that Contepomi had been Leinster's first-choice fly-half all the way through but got injured in the semi and was out for the final and Sexton had to step in after being mainly a sub that season. Indeed it was really only his second full season so in terms of experience he was far behind his opposite number.

    Against Northampton as previous posters have said Northampton shot themselves in the foot. If they knew tiredness would be a factor then they were naive in the extreme to play such gung-ho rugby in the first half. The case of their prop Tonga'uiha is a prime example. He did huge damage in the first half but was never going to be able to sustain it and his replacement was totally out of his depth. Leinster adapted to the situation and again responded like true champions.

    The argument about southern hemisphere players is pretty weak as well. As has been said Leinster had 3 foreign players in their starting 15, Thorn has only played a handful of games and Strauss will shortly be irish-qualified. It was pretty much the same last year where you had Hines instead of Thorn. In fact, in each of their 3 finals Leinster have had fewer foreign players than their opponents. And whoever trotted out Christian Cullen as an example of that should actually check the stats and see how many games Cullen played for Munster. He unfortunately got a bad injury just before he arrived at Munster, was out for long per

  • Comment number 52.

    Leinster are a good side

    Congrats... play nice rugby

    There's just something about their forwards thats unconvincing though.

  • Comment number 53.

    Hold on a second!! Wont quins and Leicester be too tired to even partake in the aviva premiership final?? It will just be two knackered teams barely able to tackle on the pitch LOL, dream on guys, the large french and english DO rotate their large squads during the year, resting players etc, maybe u have missed this somehow

    At the moment leinster are doing well, soon it will turn around and under the SAME circumstances another team will be winning and so on, its probably a good mix of good and great players fit, great coach and staff and mixed with a few talented imports that work for leinster now, not relegation, provinces, tiredness (he he). If there was another coach with a different style the same bunch of players may struggle or even look very poor etc so i know it a bitter pill to swallow but Gulp, give it a go

  • Comment number 54.

    @ 32

    Leinster have been the best team in the Pro 12 this season, won the league by 10 points, won 2 more games than anyone else and only lost 3 games this season in the Pro 12. Of course 2 of those losses came against the Ospreys earlier this season.

    Given the fact that the Ospreys outplayed Munster in a 45-10 win in the semis, this game is by no means a foregone conclusion, especially as the Ospreys won the Grand final in 2010 in Leinster.

    It should be a cracker of a game, and close in my opinion, with Leinster winning it, after all they are HC champions.

 

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