Fardy and Lowe step up to the plate with aplomb
Hugely influential pair have surely earned the right to start against Saracens
Leinster’s Sean O’Brien is tackled by Antoine Dupont. Flanker was back to his inspirational best against Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Fardy and Lowe may need to be trademarked. Brief visitors to Dublin and Leinster, they have become shining examples of how to make lasting impressions in European rugby.
Hammer and sickle, both deserve praise in every dispatch about this victory over Toulouse.
Leinster have a habit of stumbling across their best team. Neither foreign recruit was due to start but Jamison Gibson-Park’s hamstring and illness to Rhys Ruddock forced two tweaks in selection.
No winger in Ireland can finish with James Lowe’s power and assurance.
It was Jacob Stockdale’s corner – where the Ulster star jolted the All Blacks yet fumbled in the quarter-final – that the Kiwi’s two tries – one disallowed – made it unthinkable for Leo Cullen to omit him from the final on May 11th.
That being last year’s reality in Bilbao.
Same goes for Scott Fardy. There might be some issue about the Wallaby being deployed in his natural blindside slot but such a dynamic display must have Michael Cheika working back-channels to get him to Japan for the World Cup.
“He never trains during the week,” said Johnny Sexton unasked to no one in particular. “We started calling him ‘Saturday’ cause it’s the only day he shows up.”
The joke was delivered with affection.
“Scott sees the game from a slightly different perspective,” said James Ryan. “Not the way some of us in the Northern Hemisphere would look at it. Hardly trains all week, yeah, but has a knack of pulling out immense performances as you saw today.
“He’s added so much to the club. Signed on for another year. It’s great to have him.”
Maybe Cheika has no hope.
Seán O’Brien also reappeared – the real Seán O’Brien – and not a moment too soon with a performance that suggests the flanker who dominated on the Lions tour of New Zealand in 2017 has unfinished business before joining London Irish this summer.
“Huge,” Ryan agreed, “I thought he had a class game today. He is one of the main leaders in the team. He always speaks so well. He’s been around a long time and this is his last few weeks in a club he has given so much to.
“He is one of the iconic Leinster players in the professional era. That is another factor for us, for him to go out on a high. That would be great.”
Due to so many returning personnel, comparisons to what England did to Ireland in February will be mentioned plenty of times over the next three weeks.
“The Six Nations has been put firmly to bed. If you are still looking back at that you are not in the right place. All we are thinking about now is hopefully winning the European Cup again and the Pro 14.
“I think Saracens are better this season but we are better too.”
“I think our game has evolved,” Ryan added. “If we get it right in attack we can cause teams trouble.”