I realise its been pretty quiet on the blog front lately, with Lucia the only one flying the flag for The Clink. I’ve been pretty busy myself at the moment, doing a course and some job interviews, but I couldn’t let the upcoming weekend go without writing something.
If you’ve been following rugby for a few years, you’ll probably have noticed that the hype isn’t quite what you’d expect for an Irish team being in the Heineken Cup final. I’m not saying it isn’t there. I’ve been traveling to UCD for the last two weeks, and drive by Donnybrook every day. And I’ve seen about 4 cars with Leinster flags, and two bunches of blue and white balloons. Even on the radio, there is more talk about who will be relegated in the English Premiership than the biggest club rugby match in the year. Being fair, I will compare that to last year (when I lived in Dublin, as oppose to Cork when the ’06 final was on) when there was red all over the place. Flags and stickers on cars, people wearing jerseys in the days building up to the final. The “Blue Army” certainly needs to take a few notes from their southern cousins in how to support a team.
But that’s enough Leinster supporter bashing. While the fans need to pick up their game a little, the team certainly does not. Leinster are a quality side with plenty of world class talent, as shown by the four players traveling to South Africa with the Lions (maybe five, if D’Arcy is selected later on today). They’ve shown that they have what it takes to win when it counts, by toppling the top seeded team in Europe. The general consensus in the media, and my own opinion too, is that if Leinster can play like they did against Munster, they will win.
Leicester are a class act – usually. They clawed their way to a 10-9 win last weekend in the Guinness Premiership final. But isn’t that the sign of a great team, when they play badly but still win? They have a strong squad, including an Irishman (who captains them also) in Geordan Murphy. Some are saying that the pressure is off Leicester, having already won some silverware, but I disagree. This club has been to three previous finals, winning two (’01 & ’02). In many ways, they are the English Munster. They live and breath the Heineken Cup. Come this time tomorrow, they will be as determined as anyone to win.
So the key I think for Leinster is to imagine that they are playing Munster. Show the same heart and spirit as in Croke Park and the rest will follow. The team was named today, and the noticeable change is that Nacewa has been selected ahead of Kearney. That probably comes down to a combination of two reasons: mostly that Nacewa is in form and played well against Munster, but to a lesser extent that Kearney is coming back from illness.
The most important player on the pitch tomorrow is this man:
Johnny Sexton is the key to whether Leinster win or lose tomorrow. He has blown hot and cold all year, pulling out some great performances, and some not so great. Without Contepomi to fall back on, the pressure is on the young 23-year-old to control the game. With the likes of Tom Croft (a newly named Lion) and Sam Vesty (a rumoured Lion) bearing down on him, this will be the biggest challenge of his career, and as a future Ireland No. 10, I really hope he rises to it and plays like he did in Croke Park.
And to all the Irish nay-sayers who are supporting Leicester tomorrow, I say shame on you. Currently, nearly every major European trophy resides on our island. That’s the Heineken Cup, Magners League and Six Nations (the other being the Challenge Cup). We should all want the current streak of Irish dominance in European rugby to continue. And that means supporting Leinster tomorrow. I no, I no, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. But let’s all move on. We can all support the blues for at least 2 hours without it killing us, can’t we?
Kick off is 5 on Sky Sports 2 tomorrow, but coverage begins at 4.30. TV3 are doing a preview at 1 and RTÉ 2 are showing highlights at 8.30. And if you still crave more rugby, Ireland begins its summer tour against Canada, which is being shown on RTÉ 2 at 10PM.
Never thought I’d say this but….. C’mon Leinster!