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UK columnist bemoans 'priceless advantage' afforded to Leinster

By Ian Cameron
James Lowe applauds - PA

Sunday Times columnist Stephen Jones is not that happy at Leinster being allowed to play their “away” Champions Cup semi-final at Croke Park, a mere 3.4 kilometres from the Aviva Stadium.

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Last night Leinster defeated La Rochelle 40-13, ending the French club’s bid to secure a third consecutive Champions Cup title.

Under the guidance of Corkonian Ronan O’Gara, La Rochelle had previously bested Leinster in the finals of the last two seasons, albeit with a slender overall margin of just four points. However, Leinster got their sweet revenge in a relatively one-sided contest.

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However, it’s the decision to host the semi-final at Croke Park that has stirred debate among rugby enthusiasts and commentators alike, particularly regarding the integrity of what constitutes an ‘away’ game.

Critics – including Jones – argue that playing so close to their usual venue provides Leinster with a “priceless” home-field advantage, not typically afforded to teams in similar situations.

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Writing in his Sunday Times column, Jones observed: “They [Northampton Saints] will face Leinster, who beat La Rochelle 40-13, in the semi-final, and in a massive shock, Leinster are not hosting it at their home ground, the Aviva Stadium, because it is the venue for the Europa League final.

“It is not to cast aspersions on anyone, but the last time they played an away game, their boots had wooden studs.

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“They have the home country advantage as the competition’s second-ranked team but will now have to walk all the way to Croke Park, also in Dublin, of course.

“The organisers of this tournament have made it partially ridiculous by allowing the seedings from months ago to apply all the way through until the final, which has devalued the event and given Leinster a ludicrously priceless advantage.”

Regardless of venue, there’s no denying that Leinster are now hot favourites to add a fifth Champions Cup to their trophy cabinet, such was the manner of their victory over La Rochelle.

O’Gara – a long and bitter rival of Leinster – doffed his cap in the direction of the men in blue, copping the loss on the chin.

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“If it’s a close one, you always have a lot more regrets but if you have a small bit of cop on, you could see that the dominant team was in blue,” said O’Gara in the post match press conference. “They were shaper to everything and they made it difficult for us and their rush defence worked well and in the first 70, I don’t think we won a breakdown penalty bar the kick-off that we took.”

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Abe 2 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

Not a fan of your picks. McReight is good at club level but he is too small for international level and has consistently disappointed there. Better to go for larger guys. Kemeney, Valentini, Hooper, Leota, Samu, Swinton, etc. Aalatoa and Nonga are woeful scrummagers and don’t offer much around the field. Wallabies will not win if the scrum falls to pieces. The fact that Faamissli hasn’t been developed is a tragedy. Need a scrum that doesn’t give away penalties. So looks like a Talakai maybe instead. Best scrummagers need to be selected. McDermott runs the ball too much and doesn’t fit into a structured attack like Schmidts. Gets isolated too often. Ok off the bench late but not for 60 mins. Goal kicking has to be one of the top 3 points for a 10 so that does in Gordon and O’Connor. Be better off going for lynagh on that front. Donaldson and Noah seem to be doing best of the established names. QC a better mentor type guy than OConnor as well if he’s playing. Daugunu has been the most consistent 13 and breaks the line a lot so must be in the squad. Joost has also been good. Richie Arnold playing well for Toulouse and is a preeminent lineout jumper so needs to be in. Latu also playing well for La Rochelle and is better scrummager than the Aussie choices so should be in. The big guy at the Tahs Amataroso I think it is needs to be developed as well. Otherwise the team will be too small. Hodge is a better choice at fullback than Wright. Latter makes too many mistakes. Not sure if Hodge available.

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Turlough 7 hours ago
Four Leinster talking points after latest Champions Cup final loss

First of all: hats off to Toulouse an outstanding performance. Duponts kicking was phenomenal. Twice he challenged Keenan with amazing clearances from his 22 in extra time. Result was territory deep in Leinster half in the early part of extra time which lead to 2 penalties and the game. Remember also his two 50:22s? Now to Willis/Dupont. ANY slight isolation by a Leinster player resulted in a turnover penalty. How many turnovers in the Toulouse 22? Leinster’s defense was immense, they had opportunities in attack but they honestly looked like they had not spent enough time passing the ball in the training in the weeks preceding the final. Game management was poor. Toulouse’s scrum had crumbled. At 15-15 Leinster had a scrum advantage in a position that would be kickable for a scrum penalty. Leinster played on and missed a long range drop goal. You MUST take the scrum surely? Win penalty and its a shot at goal to win with time up. No penalty and you can attack and drop goal whatever. The distance from sideline penalties from Byrne was shocking. If you are kicking the line you must get close to that 5 metre line. How many times were Leinster forced to maul from 10-15 metres? Toulouse KNEW Leinster was going to kick and maul and clearly spent considerable training time neutralizing thuis threat. The maul was starting too far out, Toulouse were able to stop the heart of the drive. You must change tack and start kicking for goals. That said it always felt like Toulouse were the potent team on the day with Leinster under pressure and chasing. Even with their backline completely disrupted, Toulouse found a way. 9 Wins in their last 9 finals. Leinster will be there next year. But so will Toulouse/Northhampton etc. A great era of club rugby.

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