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Touch of class with Jordi Murphy says a whole lot about this Leinster team

Johnny Sexton challenge the province to improve their culture in 2016 and the results are clear.

Murray Kinsella reports from San Mamés, Bilbao

IT’S THE LITTLE things that give us the most insight into a team’s culture off the pitch.

Not many of us would have commented or even noticed had Jordi Murphy not been involved in lifting Leinster’s fourth Champions Cup along with Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton, the two main leaders.

Isa Nacewa and Jordi Murphy lift the European Rugby Champions Cup trophy Murphy's importance to the squad was recognised. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There’s a bit of a tradition of the sharing of this duty at Leinster.

In 2009, captain Leo Cullen brought Australian scrum-half Chris Whitaker, who was due to leave the province, forward with him to do the honours.

In 2011, Cullen was joined by Shane Horgan and Gordon D’Arcy. The year after it was Shane Jennings alongside Cullen.

The current crop hasn’t forgotten where they come from and to include Murphy in the trophy-lifting before his move to Ulster this summer showed that this squad very much practice what they preach about being ‘brothers’.

27-year-old Murphy has long been an underrated player but his involvement in this trophy success has been obvious.

He kept Jack Conan out of the team for the final, deservedly so after his superb performances against Saracens and the Scarlets in the previous two rounds.

“Jordi has been phenomenal,” said captain Nacewa afterwards. “He’s such a dedicated player, he plays with his heart on his sleeve and he has given it his all.

“It’s pretty fitting for him to have an outstanding campaign and it’s just good that he lifts the trophy. He has been in the centre of it all, right in the mix of things throughout the whole campaign.

Jordi Murphy and his family celebrate with the European Rugby Champions Cup trophy Murphy celebrates with his family. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It was a good way for him to sign off on his European honours with Leinster.

“Maybe he’s going to be back some day.”

The impending departure of Murphy north to Ulster next season has been bemoaned more and more by Leinster fans in recent months, as the back row has had a major impact on Ireland’s Grand Slam and now the province’s European title.

From an Ulster point of view, it is a hugely exciting signing. Murphy appears to be hitting his prime and is sure to bring his thirst for trophy success to Belfast with him at a time when Ulster need to improve.

Murphy, of course, isn’t the only player set to leave the province this summer and there will be a loss of experience with the exits of Nacewa, Jamie Heaslip and Richardt Strauss – who Sexton said is “a huge influence in the group.”

Whatever about those departures, Leinster know that they now have the off-the-pitch culture to account for the loss of experience.

Speaking in April of 2016, Johnny Sexton said that this element of Leinster’s make-up had dipped away since their previous European titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

“Culturally we are nowhere near where we were when we were winning those trophies,” said Sexton in typically blunt fashion, laying out the truth for all to see and at the same time laying down a challenge to his team-mates to improve.

The turnaround since that statement from Sexton has been vital to Leinster’s return to trophy success in Europe.

Sean Cronin and Isa Nacewa celebrate winning the European Rugby Champions Cup Final Leinster's players are a tight-knit group. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The introduction of Stuart Lancaster has been important in many ways, particularly when it comes to the actual rugby on the pitch, but also in terms of culture.

The Englishman is deeply aware of the importance of the off-the-pitch atmosphere in a squad, of building meaning for the players, of helping them to feel valued, understood and motivated, of ensuring that they have standards they live by every day.

Cullen understands better than anyone what Leinster stands for, having helped to build the province into one of the most successful club sides in the world after returning from Leicester in 2007, having seen the importance of culture there.

Sexton, Nacewa, Heaslip, Sean O’Brien – the list of those involved in the rebuild of Leinster on and off the pitch is extensive, but the results are clear.

Nacewa wasn’t just paying lip service when he credited everyone at Leinster for this trophy success, even the “back office” staff.

The province has been on a remarkable journey over the past two seasons and the moment where Jordi Murphy, seemingly a little taken aback himself, came forward to help lift the trophy said so much about this Leinster team.

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Murray Kinsella

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