This is one relentless machine. The machine is Leinster Rugby. They can play at any style you throw at them and put you on your merry way long before the final whistle.
Munster Rugby box kicked everyone to boredom last week. Ulster Rugby tried to take the game to Leinster Rugby but it was the same result. 13-3 last week and now a comfortable 27-5 final scorelines for the Leinster Rugby juggernaut this weekend.
The levels of performance between these two teams last night was quite striking. Leinster Rugby and Ulster Rugby with one eye on European Cup fixtures next week shuffled the pack; it was a test in squad depth and Leinster Rugby held all the aces with the team selection sheets pregame.
However, it did not start out that way. Hume at thirteen with an early try to give Ulster Rugby a superb start but it only kicked the monster into life. The line speed from Leinster Rugby was excellent and Ulster Rugby never got a sniff thereafter.
They nullified Coetzee despite the South African looking to take the fight to Leinster Rugby with each ball carry but the tackling and breakdown work from Leinster Rugby was on point and with Doris providing more prominent cameos, this final was turning quite significantly to Leinster Rugby’s advantage well before the half-time break.
The response to the Hume try was immediate. Leinster Rugby created pressure and James Lowe was soon over for the opening try. While Ulster Rugby missed their try conversion, Ross Byrne nailed his and from an encouraging start, Ulster Rugby were under pressure and facing down the inevitable.
Leinster Rugby will be the first to admit that they were far from accurate. Unforced errors and set piece miscues in the line out to give Ulster some respite but it was only respite because of the pressure being exerted to the half back partnership of Mathewson and Burns.
Burns was enduring a long evening. The van der Flier pressure game plan from Leinster Rugby who was consistently in the face of Burns in open play was struggling in all areas of play.
His kicking from hand, his linkup play was not accurate enough and his passing was letting him down at regular intervals. The pass to Hume when in scoring opposition (down on his ankles) in the opening half was a morale sapper and a key moment in the final. Leinster Rugby knew it with roars of approval.
A comment from Marcus Horan during the TnaG commentary resonated throughout the opening period. Cup finals, keep the scores ticking over. Ulster Rugby were given penalty opportunities but refused it because of their inability to kick goals from distance instead going down the line and coughing up possession eventually.
Leinster Rugby were more street wise than Ulster Rugby in this respect. As the half time whistle loomed large, concerted pressure and penalty wins saw Ringrose point to the posts. Byrne duly slotted the three points. 10-5 up at the break.
The second half saw Leinster Rugby improve and this game was over as a contest in the third quarter. Reidy hit on Ringrose off the ball resulted in another three points as Byrne opened a two score game. Cue Billy Burns to encapsulate his night. A predictable pass was snapped up by Robbie Henshaw and suddenly it was a 20-5 contest. Game over.
Burns’ night was soon over as Ian Madigan arrived to proceedings but this game was up as Leinster Rugby were starting to create line breaks as Ulster Rugby’s defensive line started to tire. The third try was not long in coming and more pressure deep in Ulster Rugby’s territory seeing Doris crash over. 27-5.
The worrying thing for Ulster Rugby was that Leinster Rugby were not at their typical accurate best for good stretches of this contest and something that Cullen and Lancaster will be quick to point out as Saracens arrive to Dublin next weekend in a massive tussle.
Leinster Rugby are head and shoulders above anyone in the Guinness Pro14 league. An unbeaten league season and no recognition from the powers that be instead looking to reward Edinburgh Rugby for head coach and player of the year accolades. I am baffled.
When you consider the squad personnel used by Leinster Rugby, the dependency on their underage academy and first team squad group to win fixtures minus their international players is a massive testament to the coaching and conditioning personnel at the club. The performances were consistency high and opposition teams were sent on their way.
Ulster Rugby can take solace in that Edinburgh Rugby win last weekend but this weekend was the barometer. Munster Rugby were pillared for their performance last week and so should Ulster Rugby here. The final is a stark reminder of where the side need to get to and raised questions on the ten jersey ahead of their road trip fixture to Toulouse.
Billy Burns for a marquee fixture next weekend. The marquee players in the Ulster Rugby surely must be raising concerns on Burns given his recent cameos. Ian Madigan bailed Burns out last weekend but the damage was too great this weekend, the game was up for Ulster Rugby when Madigan arrived to the game.
Dan McFarland and his selection process is under the spotlight this week. Does he retain faith to Burns or look to Madigan to settle the ship? Cooney at nine needs a ten who will take the pressure off him. I know who I would go for but the head coach may think totally different.
Toulouse away. This is a daunting fixture. Ulster Rugby will be doing well to stay in this contest into the third quarter if this is the level of performance since the resumption. I hope I am proved wrong but there are weak points. The defensive maul is an area which needs tightening.
Leinster Rugby relentlessly move onto the European Cup campaign phase of this season. Saracens is an intriguing fixture. Farrell out but there is plenty in that pack to garner focus and respect. The back three and three quarters may be changed but Saracens will be solid.
Leinster Rugby’s accuracy needs to move up a few notches but a final win this weekend should provide additional momentum ahead of a titanic end of European campaign. Superior to anything in the Guinness Pro14, it is time to prove that they are European club rugby kingpins.