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Leinster Rugby vs Scarlets
RDS Showground
Friday, 8 May 2009, 19:45

Television: Live Setanta Ireland
Season Ticket: Magners League 9 - Picture of Paul Dean

What a day!

Leinster's magnificent win last Saturday over Munster was the greatest day in their history!  There have been great days before when Leinster have won with great style, but this time they married the style with real substance as the defence was simply incredible.  Last week we said that to win they would have to rattle Munster while being almost perfect themselves.  However it's one thing saying it here, another thing entirely to do it on the pitch.

But the boys did it; with only the sometimes wayward lineout a black mark on the day.  They used all the slights and sneers thrown their way in the media (thank you David Corkery et al) and hit Munster with a furious determination that never let up.  There were so many memorable moments in the game, I could be here all day.  However one moment that summed up Leinster's attitude came shortly before the end.  Alan Quinlan was put into space near the touchline and looked set to score a try.  It was too late to affect the result and would have been only a consolation.

No-one would have been too hard on Leinster if Quinlan was scored, but Leinster would have been hard on themselves.  From nowhere came Rocky Elsom and Quinlan was tackled safely into touch.  It was as if the defence was saying "You shalt not pass!"  Even when Leinster have been in poor attacking form this season, their defence has been immense with less than a try conceded per game over the season.  In fact they've only conceded three tries in eight Heineken Cup games so far this season.  Huge credit must go to defensive coach Kurt McQuilkin for this.

Elsom was of course heroic in both defence and attack that day.  He's been extraordinary this season, remarkable in his consistency and will surely win the Leinster player of the season award on Saturday night.  Of course there's been a lot of column inches about whether Rocky will stay or go.  While we'd all love him to stay, we should also understand the young man's desire to play international rugby.  Whatever he decides, he owes us nothing after such a brilliant season!  And who knows, after the next World Cup is over he might consider coming back.

Of course Rocky wasn't the only hero, the whole team were.  Gordon D'Arcy made a huge amount of critical tackles and Brian O'Driscoll was at his imperious best.   Shane Horgan was back to his old self and Luke took his try like the arch-finisher he is.  A concern for some on being picked at fullback Isa Nacewa showed his class with a hand in two tries plus a number of try saving tackles.  Chris Whitaker had his best passing performance of the season and put in a huge amount of tackles to boot.

In the pack the props Cian Healy and Stan Wright carried bravely and rucked ruthlessly and effectively.  Bernard Jackman had a few wonky throws but was excellent in the loose, once again playing through the pain barrier to have a major impact.  In the boiler room Leo Cullen was at his stroppy best and Mal once again turned back the clock with a huge effort.  Shane Jennings ruled the ground and got in Munster's faces and Jamie Heaslip had another massive all round game.  The pick of the subs, Jonny Sexton, was coolness itself, and the rest of the replacements who got on all made a contribution.

You'll have noticed the one name missing from that list is of course Felipe Contepomi.  Tomorrow was going to be his last appearance at the RDS in a blue shirt but the sporting Gods can be cruel and a knee injury had ended his season and by extension, his Leinster career.  This means he will be denied the chance to run out against Leicester in Edinburgh, particularly sad when we consider how much he contributed over the years to getting Leinster there.

Felipe's six years in Leinster have had their up and downs.  His first season was ruined when he wasn't registered for Europe and in his second he wasn't really trusted by then coach Declan Kidney.  In his third season though he came to life when installed at number 10 and scored a scarcely believable 15 tries as well as kicking superbly.  Since then he's become a firm crowd favourite. Felipe could be inspirational one minute and exasperating the next but the one thing that no one could ever doubt was the passion he felt for the team.  It's sad to think that he's made his last kick for Leinster and the crowd won't be able to sing his name in tribute again.  Yet somehow I think that song will live on regardless and hopefully the crowds will come out in force tomorrow night to give him a final ovation.

With the Magners League gone, the match against Llanelli will now be very much seen as preparation for the final in two weeks time.  Michael Cheika has decided to try to keep the tempo going and has gone with a near full strength side.  There are only two changes to the side which started against Munster.   Sean O'Brien gets his first start at six in place of Elsom who rests a knee strain.  If Elsom does leave O'Brien has been mooted as a potential replacement at blindside so it will be a big evening for the young man as he looks to put down a marker.

The only other change is Jonny Sexton starting at ten in place of the unfortunate Contepomi.  This is actually Sexton's first start since the Castres away defeat and while he has done superbly when coming off the bench recently he'll want to show that he can do it from the start.

For the Scarlets it's a strangely busy end to the season with three games in a week due to fixture congestion caused by the Anglo-Welsh cup.  After this game they've got to play Cardiff on Wednesday before finishing their season against Ulster next Sunday.  To that end they've got to rotate their squad and they've named a side that is a mixture of youth and experience.  Their two Lions, Steven Jones and Matthew Rees, both start and there's more international quality in Mark Jones and Australian David Lyons.  Jon Davies and Jonathan Edwards are promising youngsters and scrum-half Martin Roberts has had a fine season.

For Leinster the focus will be on the final but for motivation they'll only have to recall the 52-23 hammering the Scarlets inflicted at the start of last season at the RDS.  That defeat seems a lifetime away now.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Scarlets
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Daniel Evans
Shane Horgan 14 Mark Jones
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Gavin Evans
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Jon Davies
Luke Fitzgerald
11 Lee Williams
Jonathan Sexton
10 Stephen Jones (C)
Chris Whitaker 9 Martin Roberts

Cian Healy 1 Iestyn Thomas
Bernard Jackman 2 Matthew Rees
Stan Wright 3 Phil John
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Vernon Cooper
Malcolm O'Kelly 5 Dominic Day
Sean O'Brien
6 Josh Turnbull
Shane Jennings 7 Jonathan Edwards
Jamie Heaslip 8 David Lyons

Replacements John Fogarty 16 Deacon Manu
Ronnie McCormack 17 Ken Owens
Devin Toner 18 Lou Reed
Stephen Keogh
19 Rob McCusker
Simon Keogh 20 Gavin Cattle
Fergus McFadden
21 Rhys Priestland
Girvan Dempsey 22 Rob Higgitt
 
Not considered
due to injury

C.J. van der Linde (Toe - Out for Season)
Rob Kearney (Illness)
Rocky Elsom (Knee Strain)
Felipe Contepomi (Knee - Out for Season)

   
 
Match Officials Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson (IRFU), Jonathan Peake (IRFU)
4th Official: Kevin Beggs (ARLB)
5th Oficial: Sean Gallagher (ARLB)
TMO: John Carvill (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-05-11

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