Like most people I questioned why they moved the final to a non-rugby city, however, this turned out to be a great venue for a less than spectacular final.
It’s not easy to get to; at least not economically. Our route was via Amsterdam on the outbound trip and through Gatwick on the return. We heard a lot of stories about delays and cancellations. Just glad to get there ourselves.
What can you say about the match? It lacked some sort of spark. It was a cagey affair, neither team willing to back down and had a lot of huge defensive plays.
Racing’s game plan was probably their best chance to win, and they nearly pulled it off. It was brave and bold, but not all that exciting.
The Leinster player’s struggled to get any momentum. Gary Ringrose usually twists and wriggles past the first tackler, making several meters after the first contact. But it was not until sixty minutes that he finally managed to break the defensive line.
Nacewa had some strong carries, but his kicking from hand let him down. He showed his bottle with the place kicks to close out the game.
I though Rob Kearney looked slick and comfortable at full back. He fielded well and launched a few gutsy counter attacks. Unfortunately these did not make a lot of headway against a rock solid defensive line.
Larmour did OK on the wing, however, I think we missed some of James Lowe’s magic. Each time the ball went wide, the Racing defense were able to coral and contain us.
Luke McGrath had a decent game but was perhaps not match fit. His box kicks were not always effective - when we did recover them the ground made was minuscule.
Johnny had a good but not a great game by his standards. The hamstring niggle he picked up showed in the last quarter of the game. There were a few grumbles from the crowd about putting Carberry on. I think Cullen made the right decision - you want you big match ten to close out a tight game.
Robbie Henshaw was solid throughout and made a few excellent carries but you felt he was well marked. He never had the ball in space and there was always a Racing player about to make a tackle.
The real battle was up front. James Ryan the stand out player. He was the key operator in the line out and made excellent tackles and carries all over the pitch. What a player?
His opposition in the second row, Nakarawa and Donnacha Ryan, put on a great display, but I think the Ryan and Toner edged this overall. Toner put in fourteen tackles, outstanding for a lock and was only outdone by Ryan’s fifteen. You sense that the battle shared by these four was a microcosm for the entire match. Tough, ugly, brutal and swinging towards the boys in blue late on.
The front row did enough to keep it an even match. Neither side really dominated the scrum. The back row was also pretty close. Leavy had a solid, if constrained time by his standards, but he was the leading tackler on either side with a massive twenty hits. I think he can be forgiven the three penalties with that sort of return.
Wayne Barnes had too much of a role in this final. I did not get a ref link radio so am still in the dark about some of his decisions. The new “improved” hand signals did not help from our vantage point.
The stadium offers a great view and if we could see the encroachment offside from high up; I’m not sure how Barnes missed it continually. Racing had fast line speed but arrived at the tackle line much to quickly to have been totally legal.
Other referees seem to allow more flow to develop in the game, allowing players who fall offside an extra moment to get out of the way. Barnes just seems too eager to blow the whistle. Ten Leinster penalties is a huge number by their standards.
I felt the team that edged the penalty count was going to edge the game and so it turned out, racing conceding three additional penalties to Leinster. But that’s a tight margin for such a big game.
Leinster fans will leave with some satisfaction, but I get the feeling that no one thinks the season is over - not by a long shot.
We won’t get too upset by the traveling Munster fans all sporting Racing colours. The excuse that they want to support Donnacha Ryan was a little thin (we have our own Munster born player, Sean Cronin, to balance that!) and those of us who shouted for Munster at the final back in 2006 in Cardiff, will just be dying to get stuck into the men in red on Saturday at the RDS.
The double is still on. Munster ended our chance for the double, the big double that is, in the 2011 final. And Ospreys did the same in 2012. While we won both the Challenge cup and domestic league in 2013 it does not abate the appetite for next week.
We have fallen short over the last few seasons, Connacht and Scarlets ending our campaigns, but this year feels like it could be ours for the taking. Let’s forget about the poor spectacle just past, relish in the glory of victory and meet the challenge from the South with as much passion and precision as we’ve shown in all the big games this year.