Heineken Cup: Ruan Pienaar can put the boot into Leinster’s dream: Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick brought a little taste of the All Black mentality to Belfast and he knows it’s that kind of belief that Ulster will need when they battle with Leinster for European glory.
Legendary All Black Fitzpatrick will be of the millions tuned into the Heineken Cup decider and while he admits to being a great admirer of Leinster, he nevertheless feels that Ulster can triumph if Ruan Pienaar brings his golden boot to Twickenham on Saturday.
“I’m a real fan of the way Leinster play, they’re a complete team, they have an unbelievable loose forward trio and the backs to complement it,” said Fitzpatrick.
“Ulster are the team that have surprised most people, it’s phenomenal what they’ve done. Everybody talks about Munster be and Leinster while Ulster have been the poor cousin, so everybody is going to be tipping Leinster — but you never know.
“If Ulster are going to win they have to take the game to Leinster. They have to put pressure on at the breakdown. That’s what Leinster do so well, they put so much pressure on that they suck the life out of the defence. I like Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip when he’s on his game is as good as anyone, that’s the challenge.
“Ruan Pienaar has been a godsend to Ulster with the way he dictates play; his goalkicking has been unbelievable. He’s very much in the same mould as all those great French 9s.
“Pienaar’s direction of play and kicking is the key for Ulster.
“Then you also have Brian O’Driscoll coming back. He’s a leader — whether he’s the best captain I don’t know — but his whole presence on the field adds something.”
The World Cup winning hooker arrived at Bunscoil An Tsleibhe Dhuibh Primary School in west-Belfast in his role as an ambassador for the Laureus charity which has linked up with the local community in Ballymurphy to inspire young people to choose the right path in life.
This is a passion for Fitzpatrick, just as it was for his father Brian who also donned the famous All Black jersey.
“Talking to the children I was explaining to them about having the attitude that winning is very important... that you have an attitude that I’m going to win, that I’m going to learn how to read for example,” added Fitzpatrick.
“They talk is that participation in sport is very important, but what they don’t talk about is how important winning is.
“It’s not just about turning up, it’s about turning up and saying that I’m going to be the best that I can be. It’s the same with the children we spoke to today, for some the penny has dropped, they have realised that they can be more than participants... you have to ask yourself are you just participating or adding value to life.
“In New Zealand we talk a lot about winning and drumming into your children that winning is so important. And if you don’t win at least you know you’ve given it your best shot because not every one is going to be an All Black.
“But for example my children are not going to represent their country at their chosen sport but they know they have a winning mentality and that has transferred into school and general life.”
Fitzpatrick, who turns 49 next month, admits that it took him a little longer than most to realise the dedication required to fulfil his own potential.
“When I was young my father said to me ‘play a team sport and enjoy it. In New Zealand in the 1960s and’70s there only was one sport and that was rugby,” he said.
“I remember the Lions coming to New Zealand in 1971 and everybody wanted to be Willie John McBride or Gareth Edwards... for me it wasn’t until I was 20-years-old that I realised I could be an All Black.
“I had natural ability but I remember after one university club match the great All Black Colin Meads coming up to me and saying that if I gave up the smoking and drinking I could be an All Black one day. The penny dropped and then when I dedicated myself I realised that there were areas of my game that were not good enough.
“I got kicked out of one team and told to come back when I had sorted myself out, for example I couldn’t thrown the ball into a line-out very well. That time taught me invaluable lessons and now I’m passing those on.”