The IRFU’s World Cup post-mortem will go on for some time yet but the evidence of the weekend just passed would suggest that many of the players involved have turned the page.
Take your pick from Andrew Conway’s try in Wales, Jacob Stockdale’s game-winning intervention in Bath, Bundee Aki’s defensive effort for Connacht, and Garry Ringrose’s hat-trick in Dublin on Saturday alone, but it was difficult to ascertain any sign of a hangover as the provinces returned to what they have so often done best in Europe.
None of the individual efforts were more impressive than that of Ringrose whose three tries were just the headlines of an individual display that terrorised the Benetton defence every time he took possession and made a beeline for the opposing ranks.
Ringrose showed great feet to find space but there was a physicality in the way he punched through defenders as well that isn’t so much of a trademark. The manner in which he celebrated his tries spoke of a man letting loose the pent-up frustrations of Japan.
“I wouldn’t say pent-up frustration. It kinda just happens spur of the moment. It’s evidence of what it means to us and obviously how good a side Treviso are and opportunities they had to grab hold of the game.
“For us to get back and score, it just means a lot to get that step closer to winning in general,” Ringrose explained after Saturday’s five-try bonus-point win. “It was probably a show of emotion from a couple of guys because it does mean a lot to us.”
Ringrose has already achieved so much in rugby but this was a first hat-trick, as far as he could remember. Remarkably, it was was one that came just hours after younger brother Jack claimed one of his own in UCD’s win over Terenure. What are the chances?
“It’s a good day for the Ringroses,” the older brother laughed. That it was. And for Leinster with it.
It’s a month now since the All Blacks destroyed Ireland in Tokyo and, while the bitterness of that campaign will filter through to the next World Cuin Japan, there was a joy in watching Leinster play some adventurous and attractive rugby as they scored five tries against the Italians.
Conceding three wouldn’t have been part of the plan but this was a solid first Champions Cup contribution of the season for a side that wasgiving the likes of Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris a chance while assimilating the older troops back in the ranks.
Nine of the 14 Leinster players who featured for Ireland in Asia started here and Robbie Henshaw joined the fray from the bench in thesecond half and some of the passages they put together against a good and game Benetton side bode well for the season ahead.
“What happened happened,” said head coach Leo Cullen.
They are trying to get out of it, get it off their chest, get out there and just play, and play well. There is a huge amount of frustration when you get knocked out of any tournament.
“They’ve got to get back going now. You can see it in them. You can see it in the players, that sense that they just want to get out and play well. When things go well it is that sense of ‘yeah, we are doing something positive again, it is not all bad’.”
It was hard not to look at the likes of Jonathan Sexton, who scored a try, and Ringrose link up so well in a team that wasn’t afraid to play off the cuff when the occasion allowed and wonder why that couldn’t have happened while they were wearing green this year.
Leinster were very, very good last year and there is a sense that even better awaitsif they can continue to meld together the old with the new. We’ll know much more about them this time next week once they have returned from Lyon.
The French side lead the way in the Top 14 right now and Leinster will travel to the continent later this week steeled by the memory of their second round visit to Toulouse last year when they were turned over by the only other team to have won this competition four times.
“It’s one step at a time really, that’s why it meant a lot to us to get the first win here,” said Ringrose of the next assignment. “And then there is that experience of last year, going to France and that bit of disappointment.
“Obviously Lyon is a similar challenge and the gravity of it, but it will be different in terms of the players and the squad they have and how they have started the Top 14. It’s a massive, massive week for us.”
J Larmour, D Kearney, G Ringrose, R O’Loughlin, J Lowe, J Sexton, L McGrath, C Healy, R Kelleher, A Porter, D Toner, J Ryan, R Ruddock, J van der Flier, C Doris.
Replacements: M Deegan for Doris (HIA, 16); J Tracy for Kelleher, P Dooley for Kelleher, M Bent for Porter and R Byrne for Sexton (all 57); S Fardy for Ruddock and R Henshaw for O’Loughlin (both 63); J Gibson-Park for McGrath (70).
Replacements: F Zani for Sperandio (28-39) and for Quaglio (57); T Pasquali for Riccioni (HIA, 29-39); M Fuser for Budd and T Halafihi for Manu (both HT); E Makelara for Faiva and T Allan for Sgarbi (both 52); T Tibaldi for Duvenage (59); A Scarbi for Esposito (blood, 64-72); M Lazzaroni for Herbst (66); H Faiva for Makelara (73).
P Brousset (France).