The scene that has been set typifies what Heineken Cup has come to embody, as Europe’s crème de la crème of rugby go head-to-head, writes Killian Woods
Interesting results from Heineken Cup over the course of the weekend saw Leinster finally gain a firm foothold in pool six, after being forced to play catch up on their group rivals, London Irish, ever since the surprise 12-9 round one loss. Last year’s Heineken Cup champions’ bonus point win over Brive on a cold blustery Saturday evening ensured that topping their pool and claiming a home quarter final is not beyond this team.
Nostalgically looking back on Leinster’s successful run in last year’s competition, the current situation that the team find themselves in draws many similarities to the climax of the Heineken Cup pool stage in 2009.
Entering their round five clash with London Wasps, Leinster knew that leaving with a losing bonus point and preventing their opponents from gaining a four try bonus point victory would suffice to keep them in pole position to qualify for the knockout rounds of the competition.
Thanks to the efforts of Nigel Davies’ young Llanelli Scarlets side against a lacklustre and uncharacteristically wasteful London Irish team on Sunday, this year’s venture to the English capital sees Leinster have the luxury of a similar fall back. Sitting aloft in their pool, five points ahead of this weekend’s opponents, Leinster can go to Twickenham free of bonus point pressure. Even before the game has commenced, London Irish are already in the dangerous position of having to chase the game, as they seek the bonus point needed to end Leinster’s quest for a second successive European Cup crown.
Though this is not an ideal manner to be approaching a match carrying such significance, London Irish are hardly being coerced into playing an unfamiliar style of rugby. Regardless of the predicament or necessities that could have been hypothetically forced upon the Exiles, it is hard to imagine them varying their style in the face of impending exit from any competition. In essence, they have been invoked into playing a brand of rugby that has been the backbone of their success on domestic and European platforms under the management of Toby Booth.
Both sides will have many kinks to iron out ahead of this weekend’s showpiece. Even though Leinster gained a penalty try off a powerful scrum, they were hardly impressive in this department and through atypical defending, looked like a team that was lacking match practice due to the weather hit fixture lists of previous weeks. These intrinsic problems can be remedied with application in training and increased concentration. However, the Exiles will have already learnt their lesson from the manner of their sudden capitulation in Parc y Scarlets, where the manner of their loss epitomised the inherent attitude in the squad that their five-point win was a foregone conclusion. Irish should consider themselves lucky that this lesson came before their mountainous task against Leinster.
A flash of brilliance in the lead up to Leinster’s bonus point try gave us a taster of what potentially could occur this Saturday in Twickenham. The awareness of Horgan to pick out O’Driscoll showed that this Leinster team has the magic within, even on their off days. Don’t be surprised if Leinster approach the game in a similar demeanor to last year, though, and look to do the bare minimum to qualify for the knockout stage.