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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 27 March, 2019

'Obsessed is the word... we have a love affair with this tournament'

There is enough youth in Leinster’s squad to start dreaming about trophy number five before too long.

Murray Kinsella reports from San Mamés, Bilbao

TOULOUSE ARE THE only other club in Europe who know how it feels and few would bet against Leinster standing alone in the year to come.

In securing the Champions Cup trophy with a dramatic 15-12 win over Racing 92 in Bilbao yesterday, Leinster earned a fourth European star on their jersey, equalling Toulouse’s record for most titles.

Isa Nacewa and Jordi Murphy lift the European Rugby Champions Cup trophy Leinster lift their trophy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Match-winner Isa Nacewa, Johnny Sexton, Cian Healy and Devin Toner have been in the squad for each of Leinster’s four successes – 2009, 2011, 2012 and now 2018 – while Leo Cullen captained three of them and head coached yesterday’s victory.

Those experienced heads have been pivotal in this season’s glory but looking around the Leinster team suggests that there is more to come.

20-year-old Jordan Larmour started on the right wing, while 21-year-old second row James Ryan was the sensational man of the match.

23-year-old Dan Leavy had many major moments, while centre pairing Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw are just 23 and 24, respectively. Tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong? Well, he’s still only 25. Scrum-half Luke McGrath is the same age.

With more talent continuing to filter out of Leinster’s schools game and into their academy, all of this bodes well for the future in a competition this province simply adores.

“Obsessed is probably the word for this tournament,” said Cullen yesterday as the dust began to settle after Leinster’s late win. “I’m very lucky that the club is very supportive.

“A huge amount of work goes into producing, for the most part, homegrown players, so much work goes in behind the scenes. You see some of the young guys that are there today and we’re very lucky that we’ve got clubs and schools we rely very heavily on and our academy system.

“We get a couple of guys from the outside as well and we can see all the work that goes on.

Jordi Murphy, Tadhg Furlong and Rob Kearney celebrate with the European Rugby Champions Cup after the game Jordi Murphy, Tadhg Furlong and Rob Kearney. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“We have a love affair with this tournament and it’s mainly just a credit to the players because they’re the ones who put the work in, they’re the ones who carry out the brave deeds on the day.”

That Leinster were mentioning Munster post-match, ahead of next weekend’s Pro14 semi-final at the RDS, speaks volumes of their ambition but they insisted they would get stuck into the celebrations of this European success too.

The squad flew back to Dublin last night to let loose on home soil but the leaders in their group, such as Sexton, will be keen to stress the importance of building from this point once the party is over.

“These young guys are very hungry individuals, thankfully,” said Sexton. “And then it’s important that the older guys in the group stay hungry too. I remember Brian O’Driscoll talking to us at the end of his career and how he wanted to finish with wins, finish it off the right way.

“He really drove the young guys along. Now it’s up to guys like me to drive these young guys on. We’re losing a few, Isa, Richardt Strauss – who is a huge influence in the group – Jamie Heaslip too.

“So we’re going to have to get guys like Sean O’Brien back and really drive it on next year. We’re in a great position as a group, the group is so young. By winning the final the way we won it today, it wasn’t the prettiest.

“You talk of going to Bilbao for a final, you think sunshine and a fast game. We trained during the week with wet jackets and hats on, trying to mimic the heat. Then you come here and it’s lashing rain and I don’t know what temperature it was but it was cold.

“So we did it in a way we didn’t expect and that is very pleasing as well.”

Sean Cronin and Garry Ringrose celebrate with their European Rugby Champions medals Sean Cronin and Garry Ringrose. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster’s success adds to a remarkable season for Irish rugby that has also involved a Grand Slam and will end with one Irish side in the Pro14 final battling for a trophy at the Aviva Stadium in two weekends’ time.

“If you’d told me at the start of the season we would win a Grand Slam and win a Champions Cup, I’d have bitten your hand off,” said Sexton.

“I’m so happy. We have got a big game next week and, hopefully, get to another final and then there is a tour to Australia.

“We’ve one last push to make it that dream season.”

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Murray Kinsella

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