After a week when a ghost from Twickenham came back to haunt him, Stuart Lancaster can point this morning to a rattling reminder of Leinster’s European resurrection.
Just as he rose above Rob Andrew’s cutting accusation of “losing the plot” at the World Cup, so the deposed England coach helped ensure the former champions did the same to Montpellier’s monsters, a gigantic force assembled by the suitably monstrous clout of a Bedouin billionaire.
Rising above that lot takes some doing with a full crew, never mind one stripped of Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney, a quartet of Lions with exactly 300 Test appearances between them. Losing their formidable presence and still coming up trumps with a bonus point to boot made Leinster’s the win of the weekend.
As senior coach under Leo Cullen, Lancaster can be justifiably proud of his role in the feasibility study required to overcome such a handicap, not that he will be blowing a trumpet, even if he had one. In that respect, the exiled Cumbrian is about as far removed from the posturing Jose Mourinho as Donald Trump is from Abraham Lincoln.
Confronted by super-heavyweights imported from just about every part of the rugby planet, including Ruan Pienaar from Belfast, Leinster coped by trusting homegrown products of their own lavish assembly line. Joey Carbery, Adam Byrne, Ross Byrne, Barry Daly and Jack Conan duly took care of some hair-raising business made all the more so by Joe Tomane’s fearsome mullet.
Leinster’s young ones will readily acknowledge Lancaster’s part in making them better players. Nobody, of course, can ever disturb Jack Charlton’s exalted place in footballing circles as Ireland’s favourite Englishman but his compatriot from roughly the same far north of the country is making a mighty good fist of it.
He will not be distracted by any criticism from Andrew, formerly the RFU’s performance of director, of the “enormously costly” error in picking cross-code centre Sam Burgess instead of Manu Tuilagi. To his credit, Lancaster has made his position clear: “I’m not going to go there”.
After the whale of a win over Montpellier, there are more big fish to be fried.
Before he or Leinster even dare to dream of going all the way after four seasons of being stopped inside the distance since their last European title in 2013, they have to find a way of getting out of probably the most competitive pool of all.
Glasgow Warriors, unbeaten leaders of the PRO14, are next up on Saturday at Scotstoun.
As if that’s not enough, home and away ties follow on successive weekends before Christmas against Exeter, champions of England under the strategic direction of an Irish fly-half unsung and uncapped, Gareth Steenson.
Leningrad, as Saint Petersburgh used to be known under the old Soviet regime, has never been short of famous people, from composers to prima ballerinas, chess champions like Boris Spassky to Vladimir Putin.
Now the old place can lay claim to a real live rugby giant-killer.
Step forward Viktor Gresev. The 31-year-old Russian lock did more than any anyone on a green field in Siberia to give Krasny Yar a fairytale win on their debut in the European Challenge Cup. Stade Francais, twice beaten finalists in the main event and serial French champions, found out the hard way that Krasnoyarsk is no place for the faint-hearted.
It took the Parisians 11 hours to make the 7,000-kilometre flight across Europe towards its eastern boundary. Once there, Gresev greeted them with two tries in a 34-29 home win which goes to show that even the most rudimentary advice can go a very long way.
Gresev was a 13-year-old schoolboy in Leningrad when a coach introduced him to rugby. “He gave us the ball which we had never seen before and said: ‘You must run forwards and pass the ball backwards’. They were the only instructions.”
Enough for Gresev to grasp the complexities of the game, win 92 Russian caps with more to come and leave famous opponents flat out on their well-upholstered backsides. What was that about the French being dodgy travellers…?
The Syrian town of Raqqa, or what’s left of it, has a reason to show a little passing interest in the Champions Cup and the fate of one French contender.
Montpellier is owned by Mohed Altrud, the son of a Bedouin tribesmen who was brought up in Raqqa on the banks of the Euphrates by his grandmother.
Her grandson took off for Paris some 50 years ago without two francs to rub together or a word of French.
Now he runs the biggest scaffolding empire in Europe which has made him the 61st richest person in France.
“My mission is to make people happy,” he says. “When workers are happy, they perform better.”
Exposure to Leinster at the RDS may also have taught Altrud that there are some things in life that money can’t buy, that the bigger the opponent, the harder he falls as Robbie Henshaw proved in scything Nemani Nadolo down by the ankles a split-second after the 20-stone Fijian almost ran the Irishman over.
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