Don’t be surprised if you happen across Leo Cullen walking up and down Grafton Street this week dressed only in a sandwich board. He will be hollering at the top of his voice: “Tries are us! Don’t miss Leinster versus Munster, Aviva Stadium on October 22. Fun for all the family!”
ullen is in promotion mode, spurred on by his team’s try haul against the Sharks: eight of the 13 touchdowns went to the RDS anchor tenants in their fourth straight win of the season.
“We had attacking intent – that’s the way you want to play the game, isn’t it? That’s what the crowd wants to come and see, so hopefully people got value for money from the contest and you lot will be writing your pieces over the next few days about coming to the Aviva for Leinster’s next game because they want to entertain the supporters. The game, I think, had pretty much everything in it. I think that’s what the crowd wants to see – all-action performances.”
They probably got off on a bit of bad blood as well, and there was some of that swilling around the place after Sharks center Janse van Rensburg received a red card for a mad few moments of high shots.
Wrapped up in all of this were four injuries, three head-related. The exception was Jordan Larmour, who damaged an ankle and is due for a scan on the injury, which will keep him out at least from the trip to Connacht at the weekend.
Of the head knocks, the positive angle would be that in the old days, neither Rhys Ruddock nor Luke McGrath would have even left the field – here they went and didn’t come back.
Ryan Baird, on the other hand, left on a golf buggy, having come to earth with a huge bang, although Cullen said he was in decent shape after the game. Some of that bad blood probably originated around Baird’s injury that brought no cards for the Sharks.
The bit of bite, and the Sharks’ refusal to buckle under the occasional tempo and accuracy of the home team, added to the occasion. In previous seasons when Leinster scored inside five minutes, as they did here with the excellent Jason Jenkins, other sides tended to crumble.
“It’s great to see this type of test now,” Cullen said. “[There are] a lot of Springboks sitting back in Durban getting ready for a game against Glasgow next week. It’s a proper competition, a proper test. They have to go through Europe now as well, which they didn’t have to do last year.
“If you think back to the start of the season last year, they were coming up to Europe and not going particularly well. Every trip they do, they are getting better and better, the familiarity. We only do one trip going down to South Africa, so it’s a different experience for the South African teams coming up here. They get better with the trips.
“When you’re in South Africa, it’s the number one game in terms of where does rugby sit as a team sport when you compare it to soccer, Gaelic football and hurling, whereas it’s one, two, three and four down there. They live and breathe it. You can see some of the size profile, the speed profile, the skill, jackallers over the ball, some of the front-rowers that they have – it’s a proper challenge.”
In this contest, the Sharks caused Leinster no end of grief at the breakdown. That, too, may have led to the pressure the referee came under from Johnny Sexton, who despite – or perhaps, because of – mounting anger and frustration, had an excellent game. He was almost flawless off the tee, and his try in the second half had a bit of everything.
He had to take second billing in the man-of-the-match stakes, however, to Garry Ringrose, whose early introduction off the bench was due to Larmour’s injury. Ringrose managed two tries, the second – a sweet combo with Robbie Henshaw, whose foot-pass was inch-perfect – was perhaps Leinster’s best effort.
“I think when you’re coming on after 20 minutes and you get man of the match, you’re clearly doing something very good,” Cullen said.
“I think some of the scanning, in terms of where the space is, we knew their wingers would play pretty high. A couple of lovely cross-field kicks from Johnny into Garry’s hands, obviously, Robbie’s kick into Garry’s hands for a try, Charlie’s kick into Robbie’s hands for a try, Cormac’s pass over the top for Rob Russell’s try, so the identifying spaces were good across the board.”
Leinster were just a point ahead at the break, despite the flying start, and it was only in the final quarter that they made the game safe. Leinster’s spin to South Africa won’t come until April when they will be hit by the Lions and the Bulls in an intense series.
A rematch with the Sharks would have been interesting.
Leinster – J O’Brien; J Larmour (G Ringrose 22), R Henshaw, C Ngatai (R Byrne 72), R Russell; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath (C Foley 40 HIA); A Porter, (C Healy 62), D Sheehan, M Ala’atoa (V Abdeladze 72), R Molony, J Jenkins, R Baird (J Ryan 50), R Ruddock, (M Moloney HIA 7), W Connors (J McKee 74).
Sharks – A Fassi; W Kok, R van Rensberg (rc 75), B Tapuai, T Abrahams (M Potgieter 68); B Chamberlain (N Fleirs 72), G Williams (C Wright 60); N Mchunu (D Bleuler 60), K van Vuuren (D Jooste 60), T du Toit (capt)(C Sadie 60), J Basson (R Hugo 17 HIA), H Andrews, J Venter S Notshe (P Buthelezi 60) D Richardson.
Ref – C Evans (Wales)