When Leinster saw off Leicester Tigers in Edinburgh to claim a first Heineken Cup, back in 2009, most of the players had little enough to distract them aside from the celebrations on their return to Dublin.
Five of them were facing a rapid turnaround for duties with the British and Irish Lions but the Magners League had already been put to bed before the European final and Declan Kidney’s Ireland were already in the middle of business in North America.
The national team actually beat Canada in Vancouver the same day Leinster made history in Murrayfield and they would do without a single Leinster representative — and nine Munster Lions — again a week later when accounting for the USA in Santa Clara.
So, a whole summer spent wallowing in the warm glow of that 19-16 win in the Scottish capital opened up for most of Michael Cheika’s boys. Different times and John Fogarty remembers them well.
A replacement against the English powerhouse nine years ago, he is the forwards coach with Leinster these days and part of an operation needing to move on with much more alacrity from the province’s latest European success story.
Winning in Bilbao was a moment to be cherished, for a few days, and will be again. But not right now. Munster and a Guinness PRO14 semi-final at the RDS on Saturday demands that the medals be pocketed and the troops returned to barracks post-furlough.
The players were on duty yesterday to review the ugly win against Racing following the celebrations and the homecoming on Sunday and the week will feel like any other by the time they are done with training today and Thursday.
“It’s brutal at times,” Fogarty said of the schedule.
He blanched a bit when it was put to him that maybe Leinster are lucky to be facing Munster this Saturday but the question was hardly outlandish or insulting. What other team would catch Leinster’s attention so quickly and so completely after the scenes in Bilbao?
Johan van Graan’s side had no game to distract them at the weekend so Leinster — and their Champions Cup bid — will have had their full attention for a fortnight by the time the sides meet and the Munster coach has spoken about ‘beating the king in his castle’.
Leinster know from past experience how hard this next step can be.
Their Heineken Cup wins in 2011 and 2012 were both followed by subsequent losses in Magners league/PRO12 finals with Munster spoiling the tail end to their season on the first occasion and Ospreys 12 months later.
Leo Cullen is among those to admit that the defeats ruined both those campaigns for him.
The Leinster head coach has a handful of injury concerns to the likes of Robbie Henshaw, Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa but it may be that he opts for a chunk of changes anyway as he bids to freshen up his side.
Some Leinster starters looked jaded against Racing 92 in the Estadio San Mames after a campaign bulging with high-stakes, intensely physical games for club and country and, for some, all on the back of a Lions tour.
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“It’s going to be a test for us at the weekend from that side of things,” said Fogarty. “Can we get it done after we’ve won this thing (the European Cup)? Where’s the group at? I’ve a feeling that the group are really, really hungry to succeed again.”
As hungry as Munster will be? As hungry as Racing were?
Leinster may have squeezed past the Top 14 side three days ago but they were left floundering for long spells by Racing’s intensity at the breakdown, their blitz defence and, it just be said, a willingness to stray beyond the offside line at times.
However they did, they all but negated the main strengths of a Leinster side that swatted aside all before it in Europe over the course of eight previous games and Fogarty admits that they may have alighted on a blueprint for others to follow.
“Definitely. Johnny (Sexton) might have said it after the match: they worked us out and that’s what you do … Racing had that energy at the weekend and they slowed us up. We really didn’t get into a flow, we didn’t launch the setpiece effectively off our lineout.
“That’s the template.”
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