Sometimes you just get a feeling, that something big is about to happen. In and around Dublin a new air of expectation grips the city.
Lansdowne Road, the oldest rugby ground in the world hosted it’s final game on New Years eve as 48,000 supporters packed the crumbling stadium to watch a league game between Leinster and Ulster. A thrilling encounter which saw Leinster run out eventual winners, but do you know who the last player was to score a try at Lansdowne Road? (there’s one for the pub quiz). It wasn’t the old guard of O’Driscoll, Hickey, Horgan or D’Arcy, rather it was one of the young-guns, and not one of your ‘fancy-dan’ backs.
Befitting of the occasion it was one of Leinster young guns who bid the final farwell to old Lansdowne. No doubt as he crossed the line, Leinster number eight Jamie Heaslip would have been mindful of the significance of that score. Heaslip has been a terrific performer in a Leinster pack blighted by injury and although Leinster may have failed to secure silverware in recent years, their contribution to Irish Rugby in the form of talented quality young players will hopefully benefit the nation for years to come.
Leinster have had their share of problems in recent years, however since the arrival of coaches Michael Chieka and David Knox, the Eastern Province have become galvanised and hardened. No longer the ‘cappuccino cowboys’ of old, Leinster have developed a dignified toughness and perhaps more importantly, self-belief. This self belief was epitomised when inspirational outhalf, Argentine Felipe Contepomi sustained a medial ligament injury before Christmas. Old Leinster would have capitulated with such a loss, but not Leinster Nouveau who dipped into their academy, hoiked Jonathon Sexton out by the scruff of the neck, dusted him off and set him to work and the 21 year old did not disappoint. In the past, Leinster have relied heavily on the experienced players to pull them through, however Chieka and Knox have turned this philosophy on it’s head by declaring a free-for-all at Leinster… if you are good enough, you will play, an approach that is certainly paying dividends.
It is not by accident that Leinster are top of Pool Two going into the final two rounds of this years Heineken Cup, with their shock 25-24 defeat to Edinburgh in round two certainly being avenged when the Scots come to Dublin in January.
In recent years Leinster Rugby have failed to fire when required, leaving the D4 supporters grasping incoherently at this thing called success. And although the weight of expectation can be a heavy burden to carry, it would be a fool who bets against the Leinster to deliver that Eastern Promise.
Manus Lappin is the Editor of Emerald Rugby, Ireland’s leading Rugby magazine. For more rugby coverage checkout http://www.emeraldrugby.com/ or pick up a copy of Emerald Rugby at your local newsagent.