Leinster's Lions roar at the RDS
Graham Jenkins at the RDS
May 17, 2013
Leinster's Rob Kearney goes over for a try at the RDS © Getty Images
Leinster's latest euro success will be celebrated long and loud into the night and among those raising a glass will be British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland.
With the start of the Lions' latest tour rapidly approaching, Gatland will have delighted at the performance of those players that he hopes will feature just as prominently for his side in their eagerly-awaited showdown with Australia. In fact, it could not have gone much better for him and the rest of his management team.
The most significant contribution came from Jonathan Sexton with the fly-half orchestrating his side's fourth euro success in the last five years. The Ireland international is heading for pastures new with Top 14 side Racing Metro next season and is clearly determined to leave on a high. This game showcased all of his skills with his vision and precision in the lead up to fullback Rob Kearney's first half try perhaps his stand out contribution while 14 points with the boot kept the scoreboard ticking over.
There was a danger that Toulon playmaker Jonny Wilkinson would dominate the headlines this weekend with his side vying for the Heineken Cup crown against Clermont Auvergne on Saturday. His supporters will no doubt renew their calls for the former England international to be drafted into the Lions' squad when he has finished his Top 14 commitments but with Sexton in this kind of form - and more importantly confidence - the No.10 jersey for that first Test showdown is his to lose.
Sexton's showing earned him the Man of the Match honour but Kearney must have pushed him close. His industry and enthusiasm earned him one try and should have been rewarded with another but a questionable decision from the assistant referee denied him a crowd-pleasing score. But he can take solace from the fact he is in the kind of form that made propelled him to great heights on the Lions' last odyssey to South Africa in 2009. His performance will not be lost on Gatland or Wales' Leigh Halfpenny who for so long now appears to have been destined to fill the fullback berth against the Wallabies. He has a genuine challenger in Kearney who is clearly hungry to shake up the pecking order.
But the good news does not stop there. Prop Cian Healy may have only made a cameo appearance off the bench but did not need long to make an impression on the Stade scrum or Lions management and set the seal on Leinster's win with their fourth try.
Captain and No.8 Jamie Heaslip may not have got amongst the tries but his contribution was evident elsewhere as Leinster attempted to shackle a Stade side that dominated possession (58%) and territory (62%) but crucially not the scoreboard. That was thanks largely to the tree-cutting efforts of Heaslip whose 13 tackles repeatedly denied a Sergio Parisse-inspired Stade side a foothold in the game.
Flanker Sean O'Brien was another to be found at the heart of a resolute defensive effort with his second half withdrawal the only major concern for Gatland and co. But initial reports he has escaped serious injury following a knee-on-knee knock with his fitness set to be monitored in the next couple of days.
Leinster will rightfully wallow in this triumph but not for long with their epic season not quite done. A PRO12 final showdown with Ulster awaits next weekend ahead of which Gatland's anxiety will no doubt return with Leinster's entire Lions contingent - including a battered and bruised Brian O'Driscoll - will lace up for one more intense clash before turning their attention to the Lions.
The Challenge Cup may not be the prize they had dreamed of winning at the beginning of the season having become accustomed to feasting at European rugby's top table, but as their Ireland-bound coach Joe Schmidt said after the game: "You can't always get what you want but it's not a bad second best."
They would no doubt preferred to have been playing across town at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow but until the full time whistle in that clash blows, they can comfort themselves in the knowledge that they are both Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup champions.
Leinster attempt to shackle a Sergio Parisse-inspired Stade Francais © Getty Images
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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