No doubt about it, Leinster have been involved in some of the best European finals in the past, but this year’s Bilbao decider looks set to be the most competitive and thrilling yet.
Some patriots may have wished for an all-Ireland final but, if that happened, the standard would have dropped.
Leinster would have gotten into a dogfight with Munster, and the world would not have seen how good Leo Cullen’s men really are.
Such is the strength of Leinster rugby that players are being encouraged by the Irish management to leave the province and let other clubs make use of their talents.
Players, however, do not want to leave given the respect this group have for each other.
The best solution for Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery would be for Carbery to join Munster – his versatility would replace Simon Zebo and also change their stagnant backline.
It is worth mentioning the void Jordi Murphy will leave behind as he moves to Ulster. The back-row is a competitive area with a rich and plentiful supply of talent but Murphy will be missed in six months’ time.
If there was an Irish side picked for a Six Nations campaign after this European Champions Cup season, would it be different to the side selected in January?
In one weekend Munster’s Ireland players have fallen down the pecking order as they were not able to step up to the required level to win a semi-final.
You may reckon this is harsh but there is a World Cup next year and continued high-level performances will drive selection for the Ireland’s squad. And rightly so – the country’s best World Cup chance is in Japan next year.
Consistency and momentum are the foundation of success and have been for Leinster’s history in Cup wins.
Leinster were able to adjust their intensity on the run last weekend against Scarlets. I feared the two Italian games would dilute the momentum gathered at this important stage of the season but instead there was a shift in gear for the semi-final.
Cullen has managed his squad extremely well this season. Leinster are hitting the right tune at the right time, the intensity levels at the breakdown and line speed in defence and attack are at the level need for European dominance. There is no reason this level cannot be sustained.
Scarlets were not allowed to play and, although managed some break-aways out of Leinster indiscipline, the home side proved their intent.
Capping it all with some silverware would put Cullen amongst the best managing coaches in world rugby.
When progressing through the knockout stages of European rugby your XV gets tested. The weakest link will be found out. There is nowhere to hide.
Last weekend there were a lot of injury concerns. Robbie Henshaw’s return to action under normal circumstances would have caused concern.
But despite coming back from injury, Henshaw sought out physical contact.
This mental strength was infectious throughout the team. This was a real individual and collective statement of intent led by the former Connacht man.
There were others, of course. James Ryan’s power is becoming the backbone of this team. Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy, Scott Fardy and Seán Cronin were all effective in breaking the Welsh spirits up front and out wide.
Sexton was a man on a European mission, knowing the years available to him are getting thin on the ground.
Speaking of which you can have all the game-plans, structures and sports science in the world but if you don’t have heart you have nothing. Fergus McFadden continues to epitomise that belief and desire in the Leinster Jersey.
Elsewhere, news of Isa Nacewa and Richardt Strauss retiring reminds us of the attritional nature of the game. It’s likely we’ll to see Nacewa in a another role in Leinster rugby but for the moment the province will enjoy every minute they both have left.
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