Lions of Leinster: O'Driscoll's heroes chase double… and glory Down Under
22:08 GMT, 20 May 2012
Now that Brian O’Driscoll and his Leinster team-mates have sealed their status as the greatest force in the history of European club rugby, a maiden double is in their sights, then next summer they are poised to have a suitably major impact with the Lions.
On Saturday evening, a record Heineken Cup final crowd of 81,744 at Twickenham witnessed a showcase of the Irish province’s unparalleled brilliance in attack and defence. Poor Ulster were eventually torn apart as Joe Schmidt’s side scored five tries to claim the top continental title for a third time in four years, in brutally clinical fashion.
The Dublin-based team now stand second behind Toulouse in the pantheon of European success, but the manner and consistency of their era of dominance since 2009 — capped by this record-breaking final flourish — has lifted Leinster on to a new plateau, above even the French giants.
Hooker, line and sinker: Sean Cronin scores final try
The top table; Leinster lift the Heineken Cup trophy at Twickenham
CALL TO ALTER HEINEKEN RULES
English and French clubs are expected to call on ERC, the organisers of the Heineken Cup, to reform qualification for the tournament.
They want eight clubs from each of the Aviva Premiership, France’s Top 14 and the RaboDirect Pro12 leagues to be eligible. At present nearly all Pro12 teams are guaranteed a Cup place — with 11 of 12 due to take part next season. In contrast, clubs from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 face a fierce battle to win a place in the elite event.
However, any change in the qualification rules will require a unanimous vote.
On Sunday, they will face Ospreys in the final of the RaboDirect Pro12 League, at their home ground, and it will take a herculean effort by the Welsh visitors to halt this runaway juggernaut.
Flanker Sean O’Brien scored Leinster’s first try against Ulster and his power-carrying, ball-poaching routine earned the man-of-the-match award. Fitness permitting, he will undoubtedly be in the Lions squad for next summer’s tour to Australia, as will the electric full back, Rob Kearney, fly-half Jonathan Sexton, No 8 Jamie Heaslip and probably props Cian Healy and Mike Ross, too.
Yet, Schmidt himself has emerged as a contender to join a coaching team to be led by his fellow Kiwi, Warren Gatland. Having played a big part in French title success at Clermont Auvergne, he has transformed Leinster into champions of swashbuckling style along with formidable substance.
Yes we Cian: Leinster's Cian Healy scores his side's second try
In addition, on this evidence, the icon of the Leinster clan will be going to Australia with the Lions again, if he is in one piece.
O’Driscoll had returned from knee surgery, but having recently stated his refusal to consider retirement just yet, at the age of 33 he produced a majestic performance at Twickenham. It was the veteran centre’s swerving break and sublime back-hand off-load which sent O’Brien clear to pave the way for Healy to touch down in the first half.
Hand of BOD: Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll offloads the ball
Asked what keeps him going, O’Driscoll said simply: ‘It’s medals . . . and trophies. It’s about being selfish and wanting more now. It’s a great feeling to have won three in four.
‘You play things through in your head so many times and you try not to think of the outcome but it is hard and there is a huge sense of relief when you do manage to win. Thankfully we managed to do it quite convincingly, more than the other two finals we were involved in. The pleasure of being involved with this group of players is that I know how hungry they are and I know how they will push one another.’
Passion: Ulster fans enjoyed their day out at Twickenham
Ulster had plenty of attacking possession and were in touch into the final quarter courtesy of Dan Tuohy’s try, not long after referee Nigel Owens had awarded a penalty try to Leinster when a rumbling maul was illegally collapsed by their opponents.
But Schmidt’s men found another gear and finished with a flourish as front-row replacements Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin went over in quick succession. For his province, this had been another red-letter day, but O’Driscoll could also see positive implications for Ireland, ahead of their three-Test tour of New Zealand.
Try time: Sean O'Brien of Leinster celebrates his side's first try
On the charge: Ulster's Paddy Wallace tries to break through
‘We have to look to the fact that we had two provinces in the Heineken Cup final and use that confidence in the best possible way for the tour,’ he said.
‘We are fortunate that we have another game to think about this weekend but as soon as we get into camp we will switch on to the job of going there and trying to attain that first Test victory against the All Blacks.’
Ulster’s pride was dented by the result but they vowed to be better for the harsh experience, with outgoing coach Brian McLaughlin saying: ‘We have to learn from this and make sure days like this are the norm, not the exception.’
Last ditch: Ulster's Stephen Ferris makes a tackles on Leinster's Isa Nacewa