THE OLD LIFE maxim about not sweating the small stuff clearly doesn’t apply when it comes to Leinster Rugby.
If anything, it’s the little details and their relentless pursuit of perfection that makes them so special.
It’s a doctrine which starts at the top and filters all the way down, judging by head coach Joe Schmidt’s comments in the immediate aftermath of the side’s third Heineken Cup in four years, a devastating 42-14 win over Ulster.
“I’m happy we got five tries,” said Schmidt the perfectionist. For the benefit of captain Leo Cullen and Rob Kearney who joined him at the
post-match press conference, he added: “I’ll have to look at the video – and I’m sure these two will cringe — but I’m sure I’ll find something.”
He smiled as he said it, but it was no joke.
Schmidt the pragmatist was much more glowing in his assessment of Leinster’s performance, a clinical and resolute art-form that killed off an Ulster side who had reeled the champions back to 10 points with 20 minutes remaining.
Brian O’Driscoll celebrates with Richardt Strauss. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
“I’m really proud of the way they stuck at it. I think it was pretty tough going for the first 60 minutes, I thought Ulster did a super job,” said Schmidt. He added:
It was very, very tough going. We couldn’t get the ball back off them for long periods.
“I thought they deserved the try but at the same time I was incredibly proud of the way we defended through the phases for a number of minutes after half-time and then when they did score, to turn that around and score back quickly was pivotal.”
Cullen echoed his coach’s praise for Ulster, particularly their performance in the first half when the game’s margins were particularly fine.
“I thought they really put it up to us in the first 30 minutes. They created a couple of chances that they just didn’t nail. We went up the other end and we got our two tries, that was the difference in the first half. In finals, sometimes it’s just about getting the lead.” Cullen added:
If we learned anything from the game last year, it was that we had to keep playing and that’s the thing we pushed all week — just keep playing no matter what the situation.
“The guys who came on at the end just kept playing and kept playing. The couple of tries at the end added a bit of gloss at the end as well.”
Before Heinke van der Merwe and Sean Cronin iced the cake late on, it was from set pieces that Leinster conjured up two of their gamechanging tries. After struggling against Clermont in the semi-final, the pack’s attention to detail particularly pleased Cullen.
“It was an area that we targeted,” he said. “The semi-final, the area that probably could have lost us the game was the lineout I think, and the scrum as well at times. In these big games, you can’t afford not to have a good platform.
“Our platform was good today, scoring off the turnover scrum (for Cian Healy’s try) and getting the penalty try off a lineout ball from 20 yards out. Those were two massive parts of the game and went a long way towards helping us win the game.”
It was a historic afternoon for those in blue and those supporters who made the pilgrimage to London, but as Kearney insisted before the bubbles of the champagne had even gone flat, there’s work to be done with the Pro12 final against Ospreys still to come.
“We were really disappointed with how last season finished up. I think we put ourselves in a good position to win the Magners as it was last year. That’s our bread and butter as a team, that’s what you work for week in week out.
“I think we’ve got a really good opportunity ahead of us now this week to do something special. We’ve worked really hard in the Rabo this
year, I think we’ve used 36 players, it’s the full team effort.” Kearney added:
If we achieve that win next week, I think that could be more of a testament to Leinster Rugby.
For this Leinster side, there’s no such thing as “small stuff”.