Rugby Ireland, RaboDirect Pro12, Leinster Rugby, Heineken Cup Final 2013, Stade Francais, Brian O’Driscoll, Aviva Stadium Dublin
Double Trouble for Leinster
It may not be quite the double they wanted, and the one they’ve come up a game short of in the last two seasons, but regardless of that another unbroken, unyielding run of end-of-sequence knock-out games is again already underlining how difficult a RaboDirect PRO12/Amlin Challenge Cup double will be for Leinster, even with both finals at the RDS.
In reaching the final of the former before turning their attention to the latter against Stade Francais next Friday, Leinster will spend the next 48 hours or more anxiously patching up their squad after a nerve-jangling, sapping and costly 17-15 semi-final win over Glasgow at the RDS on Saturday.
Gordon D’Arcy is their most acute concern, a nasty looking calf injury possibly ruling him out of both games. “Gordon cramped up pretty badly,” admitted Joe Schmidt. “They think it’s possible there’s a tear there but we’re not going to know until he’s been examined. So we’ll have a look and find out within the next 48 hours.”
As ever when Brian O’Driscoll goes down and reluctantly departs the fray, crowd and medical staff alike would have been immediately fretting like mother hens over the great man’s back injury, though Schmidt did not seem too perturbed.
“Brian just tightened right up and couldn’t really stretch out. He was keen to continue but really, it just wasn’t an option. Against the guys they’ve got, if you’re trying to catch hold of Hogg, Maitland or DTH van der Merwe – I won’t name their whole backline but they’re a handful. I wouldn’t be overly concerned and I’m normally concerned about most things, so hopefully it’s a good sign.”
Richardt Strauss and Fergus McFadden will have to manage knee and shin injuries, while Schmidt was hopeful Seán O’Brien, ruled out with a calf strain here, will come into the equation for the Stade game.
“To be honest I don’t know if we’ll be doing a lot in the front half of the week, we have six guys who are off to the Lions, to London, for the whole of Monday, so our training will be restricted probably to Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Asked if this was the week Leinster’s medical staff will come into their own, Schmidt quipped: “They didn’t do too well today! They need to work on their fitness; there were a lot of guys going down. But they do a super job and they’ll have the glue and sticky tape out, and hopefully that will mean we can piece together a team for next week and then the week after, when we’re just delighted we’re not going to be on holiday.”
Verily, though, this was not what the doctors ordered six days before the first of those RDS finals against a rested Stade Francais, an occasion which, alas, will not be illuminated by a last appearance in European rugby by one-time Leinster icon Felipe Contepomi, as Stade have not registered him for the competition. Against that, former Leinster prop Stan Wright may feature.
Such was the ferocity of the collisions and unrelenting tempo of Saturday’s game that players began dropping like flies from the moment O’Driscoll’s back seized up early on, and ultimately eight of the substitutions made by both sides, whether temporary or permanent, were injury-enforced.
Given Stuart Hogg had a conversion to take the sides into extra time, Schmidt was eternally grateful for that small mercy. “Yeah, we were 2-1 down in the try count as well so not only would it have extended the effort of players and furthered the fatigued, but also we have had to win that extra-time because on count back of tries they were up two to one, which is exactly what they did to us last time they were here.”
Leinster, truly with the best of respects, will be relieved to at least see the back of Glasgow. Lamenting Leinster’s exaction, some dropped balls and missed opportunities, Schmidt admitted Glasgow had their chances too.
“A really frustrating night,” admitted Schmidt. “I think we didn’t really have the platform, we missed a few lineouts where if you don’t get those you don’t get access to play off and then you don’t get any sort of momentum.”
He also lamented the poorly-officiated scrums, where Leinster mostly had the edge throughout, and highlighted one attacking five-metre scrum when Mike Ross was pinged even though Ryan Grant was virtually U-shaped.
“I mean, why would we collapse our scrum when we’ve been dominant five metres out from the line?” he asked rhetorically, and with justification.