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Gordon D’Arcy: Defeat for Leinster is a season failure, defeat for Munster is stagnation

No motivation needed to forget pain of defeat but Munster need a win to avoid stagnation

The RDS on Saturday will create the perfect rugby ecosystem. For 80 minutes the Leinster and Munster teams will make us forget the pain caused by defeat to Saracens and the imminent departure of Fla’ and Felix.

For a few hours nothing else will matter. It promises to be a crucial episode in an epic story.

The game will take care of itself. The build up, meanwhile, is about two unrelated events.

The impact on both squads of Leinster losing the Champions Cup final and Munster about to lose their assistant coaches can only be immense.


Defeat for Leinster would brand 2018/19 as failure. That's how Leo Cullen and the players would view it.

The last 48 hours was all about harnessing these negatives to ensure a performance that can save the season.

Defeat for Leinster would brand 2018/19 as failure. That’s how Leo Cullen and the players would view it.

Defeat for Munster represents stagnation. Another semi-final loss to be filed away in the “not good enough” or “regrets” cabinet.

I have a small role to play – as co-commentator for Eir Sport – in what will become a very parochial, bitter affair. Just the tonic Irish rugby needs before everyone disappears for summer holidays. I can’t wait to call it.

One of many subplots is a final trial, of sorts, taking place surrounding the national backrow. Right now, no one can confidently name our starting six, seven, eight for the opening World Cup game against Scotland.

Look at the permutations: Jack Conan or CJ Stander for number eight? Josh van der Flier, Seán O’Brien, Jordi Murphy and Peter O’Mahony are the openside contenders in what remains a very fluid conversation. Blindside? One from Stander, O’Mahony, Rhys Ruddock and even Iain Henderson or Tadhg Beirne.

The decision making process has to be influenced by form. What we see Friday in Glasgow and Saturday at the RDS definitely matters.

Hang on, rewind. We cannot ignore the Saracens game. Munster certainly won’t. I’m not sure they can replicate the attacking surges of Will Skelton, Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje (which forced Scott Fardy to commit a sin-binning offence on his own try line) all assisted by one-man ruck clearances from George Kruis and Vincent Koch. But they can examine and replicate the “Wolf Pack” line speed in defence.

The Sarries defensive display deserved to win the Champions Cup. They were awesome. Admire it, replicate if you can, as Munster must if they are to ruin Leinster's season.

Saracens were not offside on Saturday. Well, not when Jerome Garces glanced at them. They also, brilliantly it must be said, kept the touch judges’ eyes where they wanted them.

The Sarries defensive display deserved to win the Champions Cup. They were awesome. Admire it, replicate if you can, as Munster must if they are to ruin Leinster’s season.

The blueprint is clear: Put one or two bodies into the breakdown and blitz midfield. Rush up stacked in the third defender channel. See England v Ireland in February, see Saracens v Leinster last weekend. Pressurise the second receiver, relentlessly, and he will crack.

They hunted like a pack of wolves.

That also means that space exists elsewhere on the pitch. Over to Stuart Lancaster and Johnny Sexton to figure this out.

But, still, a lot of people, me included, ignored the elephants in the room.

Skelton and Vunipola are special, gifted players who ultimately made the difference. Along with Itoje, Kruis and Owen Farrell, the Sarries main men were superb (Farrell’s right boot deserves a column on its own).

Their centres also deserve special mention. Alex Lozowski was hugely underrated, in Ireland, until driving Jack Conan backwards. Brad Barritt made 28 tackles. I’ve clocked up a similar count on a few occasions. It’s doable so long as you are living your best life!

Seriously, it’s doable if you are bouncing off the surface with a singular mindset; hit, up, identify the next man, hit, up, stay connected, keep within the 15 metre lines.

Barritt lived that life for 80 minutes. He was immense, truly, but Rob Kearney’s constant patrolling of the back field requires higher levels of fitness and concentration. Same goes for a tighthead prop under the blistering sun or any scrumhalf ever.

My point is Saracens’ incredible work rate allows them to carry Skelton. This may sound strange considering the giant Wallaby’s impact on the final but they have a strong enough squad to ensure he gets to focus on power plays, and rests in between as Jackson Wray and Itoje do his dirty work. Same applies to Billy Vunipola, just not on Saturday as he felt obliged to produce the game of his career (he’ll get better).

Vunipola admitted afterwards to owing his team-mates a performance from the rugby gods after placing such a heavy burden on the club’s shoulders with that Instagram post.

When Leinster blinked Saracens made them pay. That's how finals are won.

I feel that Leinster missed Jamison Gibson-Park in the last 30 minutes. Just to bring a different emphasis in a game decided five metres either side of the ruck (that said, Munster look tailor-made for James Lowe. Perhaps Fardy needs a break? Big coaching call, but helped if Josh van der Flier is fit).

Perfection was needed to beat Saracens admirable mix of patience and discipline.

The Luke McGrath box kick on half-time which led indirectly to Sean Maitland’s try down the other end and Garry Ringrose’s carry in the 47th minute when there was a clear overlap will remain key moments in defeat – mainly because Leinster were unable to create similar opportunities while Saracens scored twice more.

When Leinster blinked Saracens made them pay. That’s how finals are won.

McGrath and Ringrose have already moved on. I’m positive about that.

McGrath’s rationale was sound; heap pressure on Vunipola, force an error so Leinster go into the break with a two-score lead. The kick chase was not good enough to put real heat on Vunipola.

Yes, Ringrose carried into contact when there was an overlap. Quick hands could have made the scoreboard read 17-10 in the third quarter. The overlap still existed when Ringrose was tackled but McGrath choose to pop the ball left to James Ryan. Leinster were trusting processes that have yielded scores in previous semis and finals.

I wonder how much “small talk” Luke and Garry heard to override their decisions and make sure the ball got over the line. Even the best can’t see everything. They will shoulder the blame because that is every true competitor’s nature. Next time they will remember. Next time happens to be Saturday afternoon.

Leinster lacked firepower on their bench. It mattered. It will always matter against Saracens and the next club that rises from England or France when all that extra broadcast money is used correctly.

As Leo Cullen has stated they must replace and grow from within the system. So, losing Jack McGrath this summer – Ulster’s gain – means Ed Byrne gets a chance to become an Ireland international. They cannot go to market for Ardie Savea now Seán O’Brien is joining London Irish. Let’s see how Scott Penny goes during the World Cup.

Size will always be a weakness but Leinster, I’m sure, will not stagnate.

That very concern surrounds Munster. They have to beat Leinster in a semi-final to signal real progress. This was always going to be their fate. Just like it was Leinster’s in 2009.

A quiet problem has suddenly spilled into the public domain with Jerry Flannery and Felix Jones set to leave the club.

We are told Munster wanted them to stay. Johann van Graan has repeatedly stated he wanted them to remain part of his coaching team.

What we don’t know is how the players feel about the departure of their fellow Munster men. We don’t know why the two young coaches are leaving. Do Felix and Jerry agree with the Players Advisory Board contract offer being on “competitive terms”?

We may never know but all this information, and whoever’s in possession of it, is key to solving the problem.

Can it be harnessed into a performance the way Saracens, clearly, transformed the “complicated” Billy Vunipola situation – Mark McCall’s word – into motivation to win the Champions Cup?

Saturday’s game will offer some answers. Looks like Joey Carbery will return. There remains some bitterness from the December game, I can safely assume.

The 80 minutes will tell us everything and nothing. It means so much in the context of this season – potential success or clear failure – but that won’t motivate these players.

The sight of each other will do that.

What I do know is the bodies that can recover from Newcastle will be desperate to end the season with a trophy.

Munster seven days later is manna from heaven.