Leinster need new generation to start coming through ranks
ON RUGBY:As one suspected, they went out all guns blazing, but out they went all the same. As Joe Schmidt sensed, coming into the last two rounds on just 10 points was always going to leave Leinster in need of a miracle and Munster, more versed in these things, also had the advantage of kicking off a day after the champions completed their pool campaign.
As events transpired, awful as referee Romain Poite was again, even if Leinster had scored another two tries at Exeter’s Sandy Park for a six-try haul to set Munster a five-try target (which they reached with time to spare), they would have missed out on points difference.
To become only the second away team in 38 Premiership or European matches to score four tries at Sandy Park (Clermont being the other) was an achievement, but one ventures even if Leinster had set a target of six tries, roared on by a Thomond Park full house, Munster would have been able to tag on another try, all the more so against opponents reduced eventually to 13 men.
So Leinster become the first reigning Heineken Cup champions to fail to reach the knockout stage the following season since London Wasps in 2007/08. In truth, it’s not as ignominious as that suggests, for as in last weekend’s itinerary and much else, it seemed the fates were always conspiring against the back-to-back champions.
It’s just that with the final at the Aviva, and the last vestiges of a golden generation coming to an end (it remains to be seen whether Leo Cullen and Brian O’Driscoll play beyond the end of the season), then missing out to Munster would have made the pain all the more acute for themselves and their supporters.
Such are the fine margins of the Heineken Cup that teams knocked out in the pool stages can often recount moments when they could have altered their destiny. Toulouse, four-time winners, will rue their selection away to the Ospreys and their lack of a goalkicker at Welford Road in a pool they initially controlled.
Had Munster, two-time winners, missed out, they would have had a host of missed chances to reflect on. That the three-time winners also missed out underlines how difficult it can be to reach the knock-out stages.
But Leinster actually don’t have too many incidents where match points went abegging. Sure, you could say last Sunday’s bonus-point win at Sandy Park perhaps showed that at their best Leinster could have scored four tries in their first game at the RDS, but the fact is they scored none and were indebted to Gareth Steenson missing a last-ditch long-range penalty for a 9-6 win.
Similarly, in only scoring one try at Parc y Scarlets, Leinster never remotely set themselves up for a tilt at a bonus point in round two. The one point, and possibly more, that eluded them was away to Clermont in round three. Who knows if Leinster would have earned a draw had Jonny Sexton not elected for a cross-kick off a kickable penalty at 15-9 down in the 48th minute at the Stade Marcel Michelin?