Can SA franchises reach the Leinster level?
SPOTLIGHT: South African sides will keep a keen eye on the Champions’ Cup Final this weekend.
Not only will they want to see what the future may hold for them when they enter the competition next season, but also to measure themselves against Leinster’s incredible run of success when the United Rugby Championship play-offs start next week.
Leinster are not only looking for their fifth Champions’ Cup trophy – when they face La Rochelle in an epic Final this weekend – but they are also odds-on favourites to take the URC title.
Given that they finished top of the standings by a distance and won the Pro14 four consecutive years, they are outright favourites for the URC title.
The benchmark the Irish province has set in the URC is exceptional and this weekend if they do add that fifth star to the jersey, it would only underline just how dominant they have been in European rugby.
Given the Bulls team that won three Super Rugby titles had always spoken about how they measured themselves against the New Zealand powerhouse Crusaders side, who was easily the most dominant side in the Southern Hemisphere at the time, Leinster has now become the focus of many South African franchises.
Their performance will be watched by a host of South African franchises, who will be measuring themselves by Leinster’s standards – knowing they need to reach that consistency if they also one day want to dominate Europe.
The staggering fact is that two Leinster players, Johnny Sexton and Cian Healey, could lift the European Cup for the fifth time this weekend.
While the depth in Leinster’s ranks is something that has made them so hard to beat – as Johann van Graan’s Munster side found out this past weekend – the consistency in selection, the fact that their team has become so entrenched and play together not only at provincial, but also mostly at international level has made them the success they are.
Sexton and Healy won their first trophies back in 2009, and no less than 17 of the players who have been in Leinster’s squad are already European champions.
That’s some strike rate and underlines just what a task lies ahead in the URC for any side who wants to lift the trophy.
And while the focus may be on Saturday, Leinster is looking to do the double this season as they face Glasgow Warriors next weekend in their quarterfinal and could be on a collision course with either the Bulls or Sharks the weekend afterwards in the semifinals.
But first, they will focus on a record-equalling fifth European title, with back row forward Caelin Doris telling all that the focus is to create a legacy of success, something which certainly is what Leinster are doing.
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“It would be unbelievable,” Doris told EPCR Rugby.
“We have talked a lot about driving the legacy together.
“For me, that means the combination of the past, the present and the future of the province.
“It means recognising how the province has built on previous successes and how it went through a tough patch. Those successes inspired a lot of this group to be where they are now.
“In a way, I feel like the legacy is in our hands and we have the opportunity to inspire the next generation.
“There’s that and then there’s just the pure enjoyment and thrill and delight at winning a final. That’s definitely something I want to do with this group as well.
“It’s a special group and pretty tight-knit. There are a lot of close friends within it, so it would be amazing to do.”
That success is passed down to the younger players and that experience is key to Leinster’s success.
“Speaking to some of the older guys like Johnny [Sexton] and Cian Healy, the memories they have going back further to 2011 and beyond and how special those days are, how they remember them still so clearly. I’m hoping for a day like that.”
For now, the focus remains on this weekend when Ronan O’Gara’s side, which includes the likes of Dillyn Leyds and Raymond Rhule, try to upset the Leinster legacy.