Blues close in on fairytale finish

Leinster 44 Biarritz 16

Blues close in on fairytale finish

Ireland. The Lions.

The clamour and conjecture over both has simmered towards boiling point of late, so much so that Leinster’s seemingly inexorable march towards yet more glory has been relegated to the status of mere sideshow.

It’s an unfortunate state of affairs because this team is close to matching anything it has achieved since that breakthrough Heineken Cup campaign in 2009.

Beat Stade Francais at the RDS in the Amlin Challenge Cup final in three weeks’ time and they will be 50% of the way towards a rare league and cup combo.

For all their pre-eminence this past four years, a double has consistently alluded them, but a catch of Amlin and Pro12 would go a long way to curbing any lingering regrets over their early Heineken Cup exit.

It would also serve as one last fitting, final bounty.

Not just for Schmidt, but for Isa Nacewa, who is returning to New Zealand, Jonny Sexton, who is off to Paris, and Brian O’Driscoll, for whom the odds on calling time on his career will shorten if he returns from Australia with a Lions series win.

The serenading of Ireland’s great centre two days ago, when the RDS crowd chanted “one more year” after his 59th club try, was one of the rugby season’s best moments, but it encapsulated the giddy, end-of-term feeling that enveloped D4.

Three of the five tries scored were touched down by men — O’Driscoll, Sexton and Nacewa — whose lockers are expected to be empty come next August.

And with Schmidt upgrading his contract with the IRFU there remains no certainty that Leinster will be able to maintain the standards reached in recent years.

One hopes they manage to navigate the bridge from the Schmidt era to the one to follow with the ease managed when the Kiwi took over from Michael Cheika in 2010 because, on Saturday’s evidence, there are few teams more easy on the eye.

Such a lopsided scoreline against a visiting French side automatically suggests caveats over the opposition’s appetite, but this was a Biarritz side with nothing left to play for domestically and for whom a 14th straight Heineken appearance depended on the retention of their Amlin title.

That all-or-nothing factor showed at times in a first half sprinkled with the odd flash of temperament and bad blood and Leinster didn’t do themselves any favours with a combination of spilled passes, wayward kicks and lost lineouts.

Sexton and Ian Madigan, playing in tandem at 10 and 12, were amongst those most guilty, but Leinster never looked in danger of coughing up the victory, even when Dmitiri Yachvili’s third penalty pulled Biarritz back to 10-9 with half time a hair’s breadth away.

Leinster had already cut through what was expected to be a committed French defence with a Jamie Heaslip try after four minutes and both the Irish captain and Sexton barrelled over for two more in a devastating three-minute barrage before the interval.

That was that.

Nacewa sprinted over for the fourth after 50 minutes, ending the game’s best move and one that started with a beast of a tackle on the man mammoth Aled Brew by O’Driscoll, who claimed the fifth five-pointer with 16 minutes still to go.

Arnaud Heguy went over for a consolation soon after, but it was a mere trifle of a thing on a sun-speckled day of infinite possibilities — if one haunted by the thoughts of what might have been for Leinster.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, I Madigan, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, D Toner; K McLoughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Replacements: A Goodman for Sexton (51); J Cooney for Boss (62); J McGrath for Healy (62); S Cronin for Strauss (62); J Hagan for Ross (62); Q Roux for Cullen (62); R Ruddock for McLaughlin (64); A Conway for McFadden (64).

BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE: M Bosch; T Ngwenya, B Baby, D Traille, A Brew; JP Barraque, D Yachvili; T Synaeghel, A Heguy, B Broster; E Lund, P Taele; T Dubarry, R Lakafia, I Harinordoquy.

Replacements: E van Staden for Synaeghel (49); S Buroto for Traille (58); W Lauret for Lakafia (58); Thomas for Broster (73).

Referee: W Barnes (Eng).

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courtsrugbyplace: dublinplace: irelandplace: new zealandplace: parisplace: australiaperson: joe schmidtperson: schmidtperson: isa nacewaperson: jonny sextonperson: brian o’driscollperson: —person: o’driscollperson: sextonperson: nacewaperson: michael cheikaperson: ian madiganperson: dmitiri yachviliperson: jamie heaslipperson: aled brewperson: arnaud heguyperson: r kearneyperson: f mcfaddenperson: b o’driscollperson: i madiganperson: i nacewaperson: j sextonperson: i bossperson: c healyperson: r straussperson: m rossperson: l cullenperson: d tonerperson: k mcloughlinperson: s jenningsperson: j heaslipperson: goodmanperson: j cooneyperson: bossperson: j mcgrathperson: healyperson: s croninperson: straussperson: j haganperson: rossperson: q rouxperson: cullenperson: r ruddockperson: mclaughlinperson: a conwayperson: mcfaddenperson: biarritz olympiqueperson: m boschperson: t ngwenyaperson: b babyperson: d trailleperson: a brewperson: jp barraqueperson: d yachviliperson: t synaeghelperson: a heguyperson: b brosterperson: e lundperson: p taeleperson: t dubarryperson: r lakafiaperson: i harinordoquyperson: e van stadenperson: synaeghelperson: s burotoperson: trailleperson: w lauretperson: lakafiaperson: thomasperson: brosterperson: w barnesevent: heineken cupevent: amlin challenge cupevent: pro12organisation: bluesorganisation: leinsterorganisation: biarritzorganisation: lionsorganisation: stade francaisorganisation: rdsorganisation: amlinorganisation: irfuorganisation: kiwi
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