Rainbow Cup: Leinster's warning to SA teams
NEWS: The last PRO14 final reinforced a message that had probably already been received loud and clear by South African teams – Leinster will be the team to beat in the Rainbow Cup.
The 2020/2021 final was played a day after the confirmation of the starting date for the Rainbow Cup, which features the four top South African franchises and the 12 overseas teams that previously competed for the PRO14 title.
That should have increased the interest from the local coaches in the decider, which saw Leinster win far more emphatically than the eventual 10 point margin over fellow Irish rivals Munster might indicate.
The game provided confirmation of the Leinster dominance rather than providing any kind of revelation. Leinster continue to do what they have always done well and which has netted them four consecutive titles in addition to the four they had already won before that.
So that’s eight titles for Leinster since the inception of the competition.
It is similar to the Crusaders’ domination of Super Rugby, the competition that South African teams played in from the start of the professional era in 1996 to last year. So, nothing too much will have changed for the Bulls, Sharks, Lions and Stormers when they head into the Rainbow Cup and after that the PRO16 – they will be out to challenge a dominant team’s supremacy.
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Time will tell whether the South Africans have the same struggles trying to beat the Irish province that they had when playing Crusaders. The Super Rugby era ended for South African teams with the number of wins scored in Christchurch, the home of Crusaders, being able to be counted on one hand.
From the evidence of what we’ve seen of Leinster the Irish province don’t do things quite as spectacularly as the Kiwis have done and are continuing to do in the more localised Aotearoa competition in New Zealand. But in terms of having those special championship qualities that differentiate the habitual winners from the also-rans, Leinster are similar to Crusaders.
They tend to be clinical, they tend to be efficient, they strangle their opposition slowly and just squeeze the life out of their challenge by denying them the ball. That is what happened to Munster in the latest final, it was what happened to Ulster in the previous final, and it is what happened to the likes of both Munster and Ulster in round robin games played against Leinster.
Those are the three teams mentioned because they are the ones that the South African teams heading to the Rainbow Cup next month and then into the PRO16 competition need to know about.
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Yet while those three are some way ahead of the rest of the field, Leinster are in turn a considerable way ahead of Munster and Leinster. Munster improved this season and they comfortably won their conference. Their games against Leinster would also appear from the scorelines to have been relatively close, even the final, where the difference was after all only 10 points.
The reality though is that the Leinster shut out on the field is usually more comprehensive than it might appear on the scoreboard.
Leinster just weren’t going to let them in, and you got the feeling that if Munster did pox a try to go ahead of their opponents, Leinster would be one of those teams that would just lift a level and immediately reassert control.
Perhaps the best team to compare Leinster to though would be the Brumbies team that Munster assistant coach Stephen Larkham was part of in the early parts of this century. The Brumbies won Super Rugby back then because of their ball retention abilities – they’d just keep taking the ball through the phases, to 30 or more, and deny the opposition ball to play with.
Of course, Leinster also have their eye on Champions Cup glory, and it will be interesting to see how they progress in the play-offs of that competition after being knocked out at the quarterfinal stages by Saracens last year. If there are European teams that expose flaws in the Leinster game, the South African teams should take note of them, for few flaws are ever evidenced from them in PRO14.