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Wales and England might regret stepping onto the coaching merry-go-round.

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All-Irish final to cap off year of the Irish – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Luke McGrath whips away a pass during Leinster’s win over Saracens

Irish rugby is riding the crest of a wave at the moment after the Six Nations Grand Slam triumph and an all-Irish final would be a fitting tribute to where Irish rugby is at present.


Ireland dethroned England in spectacular fashion after they had won the last two Six Nations titles and now Leinster have done exactly the same to Saracens. European rugby is cyclical and the English will be back but Sunday was a changing of the guard moment.

The intensity that game was played at was ludicrous at times for a club game. It was pretty much Test match intensity. There’s nothing better than the Six Nations for me but this was as close as you can get in club rugby. It was Ireland v England Mark II.

Ultimately, Ireland won again and Leinster just didn’t look like they were going to be beaten. Saracens had loads of possession but Leinster’s defence was phenomenally well-organised, they worked really hard for each other and the blend of Irish talent with the few key foreigners is proving to be a recipe for success.

The returning Irish internationals all stood up and slotted back in nicely and James Lowe, Scott Fardy and Isa Nacewa, who’s about 46-years-old, are really canny additions and show that they’ve got both recruitment and development right there and everyone is looking at them with envy at the moment.

James Lowe has scored seven tries in nine games for them but it’s his work rate that impressed me. You don’t normally associate New Zealand wingers with big defensive reads and hits and he was unbelievable in both attack and defence.


The back row has rightly won the plaudits with Jordi Murphy having another good game and Dan Leavy popping up everywhere and James Ryan in the second row still hasn’t lost a game of professional rugby for Leinster or Ireland, so he’s the new Maro Itoje!

Saracens were second best but they fronted up. They were just guilty of greater inaccuracy at crucial moments. They made 10 handling errors and that’s key when you’re trying to pile the pressure on.

The momentum swung just before and after half-time with Saracens turning down a shot at goal to go for the corner before getting their lineout turned over and then Leinster scoring 10 points in under 10 minutes at the start of the second half and Leavy getting the pivotal try.

That score was so simple but so effective and you just have to pick your moment to use that play and Leinster did that perfectly. That shows the intelligence of not just the players but the coaches as well.


People talk about the one percenters but at this level there are loads of 0.1% factors that soon add up and snowball and Leinster seem to have them all on their side this season, whereas Saracens with their injuries and the struggles of their England internationals just don’t.

Regardless of the rumours surrounding their ownership situation, Saracens will come again but they perhaps need to look at the threat they pose in attack from the centres because Alex Lozowski made a difference when he came on for Marcelo Bosch but they just don’t have the outside break of somebody like Garry Ringrose.

La Rochelle were far below their best with Jason Eaton and Victor Vito missing and Levani Botia going off early but the brand of rugby the Scarlets are playing is so exciting and it’s great to see them back in the semi-finals for the first time since 2007.

Not many teams will go to Dublin and fancy themselves but the Scarlets will as they beat Leinster at the RDS Arena in the PRO12 semi-final last year and then backed that up with victory in the final at the Aviva Stadium against Munster.

It’s a home semi-final for Leinster, though, not just home country advantage. That defeat to Scarlets in the PRO12 semi-final is their only defeat in their last 36 home matches in all competitions, so it’s hard to see them losing and they’re rightly favourites for the tournament.

Munster did get out of jail after Francois Trinh-Duc came on and went from hero to absolute zero but Andrew Conway’s try was one of the best we’ve seen in a quarter-final and I think there’s something in the water there. The Thomond Park factor is massive and that team just believes they can achieve anything right now.

Their semi-final against Racing being in Bordeaux is definitely a leveller as I don’t think the Frenchmen would’ve had much luck travelling to Ireland to face them but the two teams know each other very well and I think Munster have just got the edge over them.

A lot of people have complained about the officiating and use of the TMO at the weekend but I don’t mind using the TMO as much as possible in big games like that in order to get the right decisions because you don’t want matches to be settled on incorrect calls.

Toulon certainly have every right to feel aggrieved because it looked like they should’ve had a penalty try for sure after Simon Zebo knocked the ball out of Chris Ashton’s hands, so I do think there were some wrong decisions but let’s not moan about the officials and the processes too much.

It’s only the fourth time ever that there hasn’t been an English side in the semi-finals and only the fourth time ever that three PRO14 teams have made it, so it isn’t time to start writing off Premiership clubs as a force but the quality of the league week in, week out does make it tough to compete on both fronts with just a two-week gap after the end of the Six Nations as well.

Leinster, Munster and the Scarlets have been outstanding this season, though. They’ve played better rugby than any of the English or French clubs have managed and are deservedly in the final four.

The Champions Cup is cyclical in terms of the teams that are at the top. We’ve had Saracens’ back-to-back titles and the Toulon dynasty and before that Leinster themselves won three titles in four years.

It looks like it might just be their time again this year and I have a feeling they could be lifting the trophy for a fourth time and equalling Toulouse’s record when we get to Bilbao next month.


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