Leinster breaking new ground after completing double

Paul Eddison
27 May 2018

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A record-equalling fourth European trophy marked out this Leinster team as great – a first European and domestic double shows they are truly special.

Three times previously Leinster had conquered Europe only to falter thereafter but on this occasion they were not going to be denied a Guinness PRO14 title.

Not even the Scarlets, champions a year ago and as dangerous an attacking side as there is in Europe, could live with their relentless attack and Johnny Sexton’s vision and tactical nous.

That is a credit to Leo Cullen and his coaching team. It’s no accident that he mentioned Head of Athletic Performance Charlie Higgins and Head Physio Gareth Farrell in the build-up to this game.

Those two, along with Stuart Lancaster and Cullen himself played their part in ensuring that Leinster could recover from victory over Racing 92 two weeks ago, over Munster last Saturday and hit their straps from the off in Dublin.

Cullen explained: “The last couple of weeks have been a mental and physical test for all of us. For players and staff to try to turn it around.

“There was a lot of emotion that went into that performance last week. To try and get our feet back on the ground this week was a challenge.

“Credit to the players, they are the ones who produce the deeds on the field. I thought they were exceptional.

“Some of the play in the first half was pretty attritional. The players really fronted up physically in the first half and took some good opportunities when they came at the start of the second half.

“Thankfully, it was a little bit easier watching than the last two weeks when there was a combined winning margin of four points.”

The depth at Cullen’s disposal certainly helps. The way the Leinster academy continues to churn out players is unrivalled in the Guinness PRO14, perhaps in Europe.

In total 55 players featured in this campaign, it was a number on the lips of every player or coach all weekend.

Only 23 were used for this final but many more contributed along the way.

One man who has done that more than most is Isa Nacewa. That he only managed 19 minutes here meant that it was not the fitting exit, but his legacy in Dublin will last a lifetime.

Nacewa said: “There’s a standard at Leinster you have to live up to everyday. You can’t hide from that.”

The 35-year-old certainly lived up to that standard and for Cullen, who has played alongside him, been his captain, and now his coach there was no more fitting sight than seeing Nacewa take centre stage after the 40-32 success

He said: “Seeing this guy beside me lift the trophy at the end gives me the most satisfaction. Nobody deserves it more.”

For Nacewa the Leinster story ends here, as a player if not a fan. For the rest, there is still a lot more of that tale to write.

Eight of the starting XV are 25 or under, seven of those Irish internationals.

Doing it all again will not be easy but this team has the potential to get even better.

And as Cullen revealed after, the hunger is there to make this the start of a legacy.

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