All too often, pre-match expectations have outweighed the reality and the last encounter between the rivals, Leinster’s 25-14 Guinness PRO12 win at the Aviva in early October, was no different.
What stood out then and now was the minute’s silence beforehand for Stella Triggs.
Stella was born premature, just over 24 weeks into her term.
She spent the entirety of her life — the next three weeks — battling myriad life-threatening complications before finally succumbing in the arms of her mother Mikala and father Hayden.
Triggs subsequently issued a statement of thanks for the crowd’s gesture at the Aviva but it was only yesterday, as Leinster turned towards a new week that will lead into their next clash with Munster, that the Kiwi lock sat down and opened up publicly about a very personal tragedy.
“It was a massive challenge, and still is every day,” he said. “In saying that, you never want to wish anybody to lose a child. You wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy. It’s something new, definitely in my family, and the people closest to me at the club probably haven’t had to deal with that. It’s very hard to relate with anybody.
“To lose a daughter in the fashion we did, it’s a massive sadness and probably one that won’t go away any time soon. It’s motivation, it’s a great learning. The more we have spoken to other people, it’s not as uncommon as we thought. We’re not the only people in the world, let alone Dublin, let alone Leinster, to go through it.
“We’ve found people that have experienced stuff like it and they’ve put their hand up to say, ‘If you ever need a chat…’ But, like I said, it’s a massive learning. We’ve got two kids, two young children, at the moment, and appreciation is a word you could use for them. A challenge every day is to try and do best by Stella and what she’d want her dad to do.”
Triggs is right about the frequency of such tragedies and he isn’t the first professional sportsman to suffer such a loss this last year.
Bournemouth and Ireland midfielder Harry Arter’s fiancee Rachel gave birth to their stillborn daughter Renee in December of last year.
Stella was “born out of the blue”. Triggs had been due in St Mary’s to do some coaching when his wife told him she had stomach pains and all plans were changed. Stella was born within 40 minutes of being seen by a doctor in the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street. The staff and facilities ensured the best care possible but there was only so much they could do.
Even Stella’s breathing had to be assisted. Tests were run daily and each new morning brought with it a different complication. She had problems with her heart, her lungs were struggling, and her kidneys started failing too.
“It was a massive fight for her every day.”
On the third Monday a brain scan showed that her brain simply couldn’t cope with it all.
Their little baby was being kept alive by machines, her own courage, and, you would like to think, the love of her parents, her sister Adelaide, 8, and her brother August, 5.
“With the help of the doctors up there, she was taken off all the assistance and stuff. She passed away peacefully in our arms, it was a nice time for us to be with her. She lasted about four hours off the machine and (over) the three weeks she was alive the last three hours were the most peaceful she’d ever been.”
Triggs recounted it all courageously, pausing to collect himself twice.
He didn’t need to do it. He didn’t have to put himself through the whole trauma again with what was, in essence, a room full of strangers but it was, if nothing else, an opportunity to acknowledge again the support the family received from those around them.
The Holles Street Foundation and the staff in Unit 8 weren’t the only ones who offered their assistance, comfort, and understanding. There were the other parents at Our Lady’s Grove school in Goatstown and the players, coaches, and all the staff at Leinster.
It was more than that, too. It was a chance to pay tribute to his daughter.
“Strength, resilience, character... that three weeks, something so small… like, just bigger than the palm of my hand was able to show these qualities… Some people don’t realise they have it. At the time we didn’t know as parents, as a family, what we had in us. For this little thing to be doing this every day, it’s a massive lesson for me.”
Life still had to go on even as Stella was battling for hers.
The Triggs still had two other children to care for and they tried to balance their time between normal, everyday living and Stella’s intensive care ward as best as they possibly could.
Triggs talks now about the need to carry on, to wake up and throw himself into every day, but it can’t be easy.
A former mechanic in the New Zealand Army, he had a friend he knew in basic training who was killed in action but nothing could have prepared him for this. “I’m dealing with it as best as I can now, but we have a very strong family. Me, my wife and my wife’s mum, and our kids, we’re a tight bunch. We have been around the world together and if there’s ever a problem, we... like, we still talk about Stella every day.
“My young boy, he’s five. He still talks about her all the time. So she’s not gone from life. She’s here somewhere and, for me, at the moment, playing rugby, she’s the biggest motivation.”