The prospects of an Irish side retaining the Magners League finally ended in a wet Arms Park on Friday night when Leinster went down 27-11 to Cardiff Blues. It was a victory that enabled the Blues claim leadership of the League – albeit for less than 24 hours – a victory that also ensured that the trophy that was on view prior to kick-off was quickly whisked off to the Border area of Scotland to await the arrival of Neath-Swansea Ospreys.
One way or the other the silverware would be returning to Wales either in the possession of the Ospreys or with the unfortunate Blues official who doubtless had to make the journey to Netherdale just in case the unthinkable happened.
The unthinkable of course being that a side who had only won two games all year and with players playing their last game before the factory closes, would turn over an Ospreys side who are that well off they can agree to sign a scrum-half for a reputed £180,000 per annum while still having a (very recent) former All Black nine on their books.
In fairness to the Borders they gave it a fair ol’ rattle just as they had done in Donnybrook last weekend. But the Ospreys prevailed and rather than the Ireland one/two that had seemed likely a few short weeks ago, we ended instead with the Welsh taking the top two spots in the League.
Much will be made of what will be perceived as Leinster’s failure to close the deal but circumstances often play a crucial part in the outcome of such close events. Besides that, ending with two of your final three games away in Wales was never going to be an easy ask nor was their task made any easier by the ridiculous scheduling of the those crucial title deciding games. Given the closeness of the finish it was patently unfair to have the Ospreys playing a day after the crucial Cardiff v Leinster game.
A disastrous start for Munster meant their challenge ended before it began. They in turn dealt Ulster’s ambition a serious blow in Ravenhill and although it shouldn’t have proved mortal it apparently did, their subsequent form dipping alarmingly. So that left just Leinster carrying the Irish flag into the final stages.
They will complain about official’s decisions in the Liberty Stadium but lets be realistic. The Shane Horgan try at a crucial stage – just before half-time – came from an appalling pass from Justin Marshall, who it has to be said had an awful game. And Felipe Contepomi’s run for his try began with a Leinster player running ‘interference’ for him a la American football. And no matter what certain sections of the media say, Horgan fully deserved to be penalised for stupidly and needlessly blocking a would be tackler and therefore conceding the penalty.
But that aside Leinster’s Magners League performance is worthy of praise in comparison to the other Irish sides. Yes of course, the records only show winners, nothing for second place, blah blah. And of course even less for third. Who will care that they (Leinster) amassed the most bonus points. But they kept it going right to the final game and and any of the other provinces would have been more than happy to be in that position.