THE BIGGEST CHEER on a night when Leinster scored five tries in beating the Ospreys 36-3 to advance to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals was reserved for a substitute.
Richardt Strauss made his remarkable comeback just three months after a heart procedure, when the initial prognosis had ruled that the Ireland international would play no further part in the current season. The hooker received a standing ovation when he entered the fray in the 66th minute, his first Leinster appearance since the 20th of September in 2013.
While head coach Matt O’Connor joked that he had thought the reception was for Sean Cronin coming off the pitch, he was delighted to see the South African native back in action.
There’s a positive story. The surgeons initially thought he’d be on the blood thinning medication for six months. He responded so well to the procedure and post-surgery that they pared that back to three months and took him off the medication ten days ago.
“They gave him the all-clear to play, which is brilliant for him and fantastic for us.”
While Strauss himself deserves huge credit for working hard to maintain his fitness during his absence from the game, O’Connor points out that the swift recovery was largely down to 27-year-old’s body’s natural ability to mend.
“I think it was just in relation to how quickly he healed. It wasn’t an active thing that the medical team or he could do. It was just one of those things and thankfully he healed up pretty quickly. I mean, he’s a young, healthy guy and that put him in a great spot to be back earlier.”
Aside from that good news story, the Australian coach was pleased with his side’s win, even if they “butchered three tries.” O’Connor believes that “to get out of a group as good as that is testament to the boys’ attitude” and says he doesn’t imagine that failing to score more tries will have any great impact on whether or not they get a home quarter-final.
Cian Healy was man of the match at the RDS. ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
“There wasn’t too much disappointing about the performance. I think once the red card was given it turned into a bit of a circus. The circus didn’t impact on our ability to score tries and get a result, but it certainly changed the intensity of the contest and took away a bit of the structure that we were trying to bring into the game.
“You can’t do too much about that. There was a red card, there was uncontested scrums, there was 14 blokes on the field [for the Ospreys], there was three penalty tries, it was all over the shop. But I think the scheduling of it has to be looked at.
A five-day turnaround probably doesn’t help in relation to professional athletes performing and preparing as well as they can for a game of that magnitude.”
While Mike McCarthy had to be stitched up after Ian Evans’ red card offence, and Gordon D’Arcy sustained “a bit of a bang on the hip and a dead leg,” O’Connor is confident that no serious injury problems will arise after last night’s victory.
The manner in which Cian Healy has stormed back from his ankle problem has been a boost for a Leinster side deprived of Sean O’Brien over the last two weeks. O’Connor was effusive in his praise for the Ireland prop.
“Yeah, he’s a freak, isn’t he? He’s a world-class scrummager, he carries the ball, he belts blokes in defence; he’s all over the place. He’s fantastic for us, he gives us so much. And how he recovered in five weeks, I’ll never know.”
O’Connor claims he was unsurprised by the manner in which the 26-year-old dealt with Adam Jones, a tighthead prop who is not used to going backwards.
“No, but he doesn’t scrummage against Cian Healy too often either. I mean he’s an incredibly powerful bloke and he certainly hasn’t been disadvantaged by not playing and the new scrummaging engagement. So, it’s no disgrace to be pushed around by Cian.”