By Brendan O’Brien
Little more than an hour after they clinched a fourth European Cup and no-one from Leinster was shying away from the idea that this victory in Bilbao should be the beginning of a journey rather than its end.
That’s not the norm.
Players and coaches usually like to indulge in the win just banked rather than scan further horizons but both Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa were effusive about what is within the realm of this Leinster side as they look beyond the boundaries of this day in Bilbao.
It’s not that they won’t pause to celebrate this achievement. It’s just that there is a hunger to keep making hay while the sun shines. Next on the agenda will be the derby day PRO14 semi-final against Munster at the RDS next Saturday.
“We learned some hard truths last year,” said Sexton of their two semi-finals losses in Europe and in the PRO12. “Guys like Dan Leavy and James Ryan have stepped up and things have fallen back into place. Robbie (Henshaw) and Garry (Ringrose) came back after long times out.
“We seemed to get guys fit at the right time. It hasn’t really sunk in. If someone had told me at the start of the season that we would win the Grand Slam and win in Europe without losing I’d have bitten your hand off. We’ve got a big game next week. Hopefully we can get to another final and then we have the tour to Australia.
“One last push to make it that dream season.
“The young guys are hungry and it’s important that the older players stay hungry. I spoke to Brian O’Driscoll about how he wanted to finish his career with wins, finish in the right way. That really drove me on.
“We’re losing a few guys. Isa is leaving, Richardt Strauss as well who is a real leader in this group, and Jamie Heaslip is gone as well. We’re going to have to get guys like Seanie (O’Brien) back and really drive things on next year.
“We’re in a great position. The group is so young.
“The way we won wasn’t the way we wanted to win. You talk about going to Bilbao to play a final in sunshine in a dry game. We were training in the sun in Ireland. We all had wet jackets and hats on trying to mimic come here lashing rain whatever degrees it was.
“But it was cold and that’s very pleasing as well.”
Sexton and Nacewa were the only two Leinster players to score on the day, the former kicking three penalties before a groin strain prompted a switch of hitters and allowing the latter to kick over both the equalising and the winning points.
It was a fitting end to Nacewa’s long and illustrious European career with the province. He returns home to New Zealand at the end of the season and he will do so as one of the few men to be the possessor of four such medals.
Others now include Sexton, Cian Healy and Devin Toner. With ‘vets’ like that still a long way from done, and the younger generation having stepped up with such aplomb this season. Nacewa is sure that his teammates can continue to excel in the Champions Cup.
“It’s a massive day for the club. We talked about taking another step after the wins against Scarlets and Saracens. To do it on the biggest stage and in a different way is pretty special. There is a solid core of guys minus me pushing on for higher honours after this.
“It’s good to be in good shape as a club going forward.”