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A Final We Won't Remember || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 4 min read

Leinster's third Heineken Cup victory on four years is a remarkable
achievement, but Rugby Rugby's Howard Johnson argues that a final featuring
two teams from the same country can never be a good thing…

Congratulations to Leinster, who confirmed what we all know when winning the
Heineken Cup, that they are Europe's best side. But Rugby Rugby's Howard
Johnson would have preferred a bit more spice in the final match of this year's
competition…


So a large 'hats off' to Leinster, who turned Twickenham blue on Saturday to
claim a record points Heineken Cup Final victory over their fellow Irishmen of
Ulster. I say 'Irishmen', but of course the Ulster flavour is as much biltong as
blarney with so many South Africans wearing red and white. No matter. Rugby
is a global profession these days and no-one could accuse a single player on
the turf of England's finest rugby stadium of having mercenary tendencies.
Every ounce of energy was expended and every sinew stretched on both sides
as Ireland's two best sides duked it out for European glory.

In the end Leinster romped home by a huge 42-14 margin and to be honest
the result was never in doubt. At least not after the first seven minutes, when
Ulster had ratcheted up a staggering 82% of the possession. Yet from thereon
in it was Leinster's day all the way. They were simply better than their
opponents in every department: more clinical, more energetic, more solid,
more inventive. They quite rightly secured a third win in four years, which in
itself is a hell of an achievement. But once referee Nigel Owens had blown the
final whistle it was hard to make much of a case for this being a final to
remember.

To be honest, though, even before kick off the likelihood was that this wasn't
going to be a classic for the neutral. European competition thrives on throwing
opponents together who rarely catch sight of each other. When two clubs share
the same territory and play in the same domestic league there's never quite
the same frisson. Finals are made to bring two different nations together, both
on the pitch and in the stands. That's what gives an important game that all-
important extra bite. It was never going to be possible for Leinster and Ulster
to conjure up the same magic as we'd seen in last season's finale, when
Leinster took on English outfit Northampton. Englishmen against Irishmen
made for a thrilling combination. Mind you, Leinster and Ulster would also have
had to be going some to match the insanely brilliant ding-dong do that those
two teams served up last time around. And in truth they didn't. Great sport
hinges on drama, tension and two evenly-matched sides feeling they both have
a chance of taking the honours. Yesterday's match felt like a one-sided affair
with something like 70 minutes remaining. Not good for the neutral.

And so for all of Leinster's excellent individual performances – and make no
mistake, Rob Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll and Cian Healey were majestic – the
game never really engaged the non-partisan observer in an 'edge of the seat'
kind of manner. It was entertaining and it was energetic, but it was never
absolutely enthralling. This wasn't the end to an exciting European season that
everyone had hoped for and I suspect the TV viewing figures will back me up
on that point. Of course, all of those wonderful Irish supporters who made a
weekend of it in London will disagree with me. How so many people can afford
what is always a costly trip in these tough financial times is frankly beyond me.
But I'm glad they made the effort, because they certainly contributed to the
occasion with their endless flag-waving and their 'win or lose, let's have a
booze' mentality. This game was for them, the hardcore. And I suspect there
were more than a few sore heads the following morning in both camps. But the
truth is that for the rest of us the Heineken Cup Final 2012 vintage won't live
long in the memory. Like the Amlin Challenge Cup final that preceded it in
London on Friday night when Biarritz beat Toulon, the edge was taken off it
simply by the fact that it involved two teams from the same country.

Not that this will bother victorious Leinster coach Joe Schmidt any. Nor should
it. He has presided over a magnificent outfit that fully deserves its status as
European top dogs. Make no mistake, this Leinster team is a hell of a good
outfit, the only unit that I suspect could make a decent fist of it in the Super
15s. Any team that features the phenomenon that is Brian O'Driscoll in its
ranks is worthy of respect, but Leinster have genius running all through their
side. My lack of enthusiasm for the final shouldn't be confused with a lack of
respect for the victors. That would be plain daft. But let's keep our fingers
crossed that if they make it to the final in 2013 – and who would bet against
them right now? – that they come up against a team from outside the Irish
borders, so we truly end up with a spectacle that will live long in the memory.