Tyrone Howe: Sweet revenge for Leinster with Schmidt silencing those critics
While Ulster are getting more used to Heineken success, the best performance and victory of the weekend came from our closest provincial rivals, Leinster.
A gritty losing bonus point away to Clermont the week before set the scene nicely for the return fixture at the Aviva stadium. For many, the Top 14 champions were pre-tournament favourites and on paper look enormously strong. That was also the case last season, but Clermont imploded mentally at the RDS with outhalf Brock James the main culprit.
So, Saturday provided a fitting opportunity for French revenge, but under the guidance of returnees Jamie Heaslip and rugby’s equivalent of Lazarus, Brian O’Driscoll, Leinster turned on the style to run out emphatic winners.
Coach Joe Schmidt has finally silenced any doubters as his selection and tactics masterfully overcame his former club.
Moreover, Saracens’ surprise victory over Racing Metro in France places control of Pool Two firmly in Leinster’s hands. Over a pint of the black stuff, the Dubliners must surely have been toasting three cheers to Brendan Venter’s men.
It was another step forward for flanker Sean O’Brien and further proof that he was grossly underused by Ireland in the Autumn Internationals.
He is quite literally a solid block, but mixes power with terrific balance and footwork.
He looks for space rather than contact, but when collisions come his way, he pumps his piston legs and invariably gains that extra yard or two more over the gainline.
The technique and mental approach is an example for aspiring rugby players.
O’Brien is David Wallace’s most natural successor and his play will benefit not only Leinster, but also Ireland, well into the future.