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Brian O'Driscoll a winner to the very end

Afterlife started 72 minutes early for BOD but winners Leinster refuse to let era end

BY Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leinster 34, Glasgow 12: They say time waits for no man and, although it briefly stood still for a rousing round of applause at 6.23pm on Saturday, 'they' were right once again.

Brian O'Driscoll has been writing his own scripts for 15 years, but eventually he ran out of ink as the calf he has been carrying for much of the season finally gave in.

As a result, the afterlife came 72 minutes early and the great man watched time move on without him.

From his front-row view in the Anglesea Stand, he watched his Leinster team-mates do what they do best, winning a trophy.

At the end, he had to be physically cajoled to the front of the podium and even then he refused to take away from Leo Cullen's moment.

Captain Jamie Heaslip said it was O'Driscoll's humility that kept the outside-centre from hogging the glory, but perhaps it was the realisation that they'd won it without him.

In Paris, the great centre had gone out on the highest of highs, contributing hugely to a Six Nations win and deserving the fitting finale that followed, but Saturday was different.

He played only seven of the 22 regular season league games. In the semi-final, he went off with Leinster trailing Ulster 9-0 and in the final the score was 3-0 to Glasgow Warriors when he left the scene.

Instead, a man 10 years his junior replaced him and made a defining contribution; a Springbok he once faced in midfield scored two tries from the wing while setting the other two up; and Heaslip, Sean Cronin and Fergus McFadden made the telling physical contributions to Leinster's seventh title in seven years.

Cullen had come on with 20 minutes remaining and, although the result was still in the balance, that scenario didn't last and he had a comfortable goodbye.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Cullen and O'Driscoll's legacy is that they leave the place in such good nick.

For Matt O'Connor, however, this was about gaining a platform from which to build into the future and there was a little bit of redemption at play.

In the aftermath he referenced being "written off" by elements of the media after the defeat to Toulon, but the unrest has been palpable in the RDS as the team has failed to click for the Australian.

On Saturday, they finally showed just what they can do, hitting heights not seen since the marquee win over Northampton Saints in December. As a result, there were none of the grumblings that have followed most other wins around Ballsbridge this season.

Retaining the league and getting out of a Heineken Cup pool that featured the eventual Premiership winners and Top 14 finalists represents progress, even if the growing pains were hard to watch at times.

"It's huge because that's what the environment expects," O'Connor said of winning the trophy.

"That's what everyone involved has come to expect of Leinster rugby. Nobody has shied away from the expectation and that drives the environment every day to deliver that.

"The pleasing thing is the performance. It wasn't always as pretty as you would have liked but there was genuine growth that the players and the coaches could get their teeth into and build the game around and that was clear tonight."

As O'Connor acknowledged in both the semi-final and the final, Ian Madigan's introduction made a significant impact. With O'Driscoll's calf affecting his training, he had run at No 12 all week at UCD.

Gordon D'Arcy and O'Driscoll have dovetailed brilliantly for 11 years, but it appears the key to unlocking the Leinster outside backs' talents is what Jimmy Gopperth described as a "second distributor" or what they call back in New Zealand a second five-eighth.

All season, they have looked better when breakthrough star Noel Reid – a former fly-half – has played No 12, and Madigan's influence at inside-centre on Saturday helped Kirchner, Rob Kearney, D'Arcy and McFadden to thrive.

"It's a big thing when you play two distributors," Gopperth said. "You can get a little bit more width in the game and move the ball around. If one guy is in a ruck or takes contact, the other guy comes in and takes it and he's a half anyway.

"In that respect you can speed the game up. In the latter stage, it was a big turning point for us to be able to put them under that pressure when they looked like they were fatiguing a bit."

Glasgow came with a record of troubling Leinster at the RDS and they left with that intact, albeit along with it a reminder of how far they still have to climb to get to the top of the tree.

They caused the hosts plenty of problems in the first half but couldn't breach the core pillar on which the title was won: the Blues' defence.

Impressive young fly-half Finn Russell kicked them into a 6-0 lead, but Leinster hit back with a team try to remember as they went through 21 phases, with 12 players touching the ball, before Madigan found Kearney, who stepped inside Sean Maitland's shoot-up to put Kirchner over.

The big Springbok turned provider to send Shane Jennings over but Russell, aided by a strong wind at his back, kept the Warriors in touch as Leinster led 14-12 at the break.

A Marty Moore-won scrum penalty allowed the Kiwi to extend the lead before he made it a two-score game after Low came in from the side.

With Glasgow chasing, Leinster were able to pick them off, and tries from Kirchner and D'Arcy finished the job.

Winning another trophy in such a transitional season suggests that while time moves on, Leinster are refusing to give in and let their era end.

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