If Leinster’s defeat of Munster in this year’s Guinness PRO14 final told us everything about where the two provinces stand here and now, then the celebrations that followed said something significant about the road ahead for the winners.
It has become tradition for Leinster to honour their soon-to-be departing players by asking them to lift the silverware on the field of play and it was Scott Fardy, Devin Toner and Michael Bent who took care of that business two weekends ago.
The province, for some reason, insists on releasing contract news in one vast batch, dumping everything onto the laps of media and supporters alike in a manner that numbs the brain rather than lift the spirits or breaks hearts.
It’s a crude, unnecessary means of doing business and it led to a game of silly buggers this week as Fardy sat in front of a PC at their Belfield base and faced the inevitable queries as to what happens next when his fourth season in situ draws to a close.
“So I’ll probably come to that later in the year,” he said with a smile ahead of tomorrow’s European quarter-final tie away to Exeter. “At the moment, I’m not sure yet. Dev played so many games for the club, it was great to see him hold the trophy up.
“And Benty did a fantastic job for us throughout the year in the PRO14. He played nearly every game and did such a great job so deservedly he got to hold the trophy up as well. Like, I just handed it to him. Other than that, I was fully part of it.”
Fardy is 36 now and doesn’t owe rugby anything, but his ‘game age’ is considerably younger given he spent three of his formative seasons playing in Japan and he was closing in on 28 before he made his first Super Rugby appearance with the Brumbies.
He played at blindside for Australia in the 2015 World Cup final but has, for the most part, operated in the second row for Leinster who, in Nathan Hines and Brad Thorn, have never bothered with age certificates when using players of calibre.
It’s an odd quirk of the game that this most punishing of departments should throw out more than its fair share of durable old grunts, although Fardy doesn’t believe there’s any great secret as to why that may be.
“None of us are very fast. The pace doesn’t drop out of you when you’re
“It’s why it’s so interesting to see the young guys come through: a guy like James (Ryan) or Ryan (Baird). They are ready, physically, to play.
“At 22, 23 I wasn’t physically ready to play at that level. I developed late in my career in terms of size. Look at Brad Thorn, he was playing rugby league at 19, so he’s probably a different story. He’s the ultimate professional.
“So, yeah, it’s all different. When you’re playing on the wing, things like that, when your speed goes, the game changes for you.
“Guys like tight-five forwards, it’s probably easier to knock out a longer innings in the game.”
Whether last weekend’s unexpected time off is a help or a hindrance remains to be seen but the cancellation of that Toulon game at the RDS has at the very least allowed Leinster relax and reset on the back of that league win against Munster six days earlier.
If this is to be his last campaign in Dublin then a Champions Cup title would be some way to cap it. Leinster’s last came in his first season and there was no more difficult stretch in that particular journey than the back-to-back wins they eked out against the Chiefs.
The worth of their win in Sandy Park four years ago has only increased with time and Exeter’s ongoing rise in fortunes and the task facing Leinster on this latest visit will be even harder if Fardy’s take on the evolution of their game is anything to go by.
“I remember thinking then their forwards didn’t pass, but they’ve probably got a little bit more to their game in terms of the tip passes and things like that.
“Even when they get into the 22 and go to that pick and drive game, there’s more passes in their game than just straight off the base.
“Yeah, there’s a lot to their game if you watch them.
“There’s a lot to their lineout, a lot to their starter plays and things like that, there’s a lot going on. They’re a very well-coached side and they’ve been
together for a long time. So there’s a lot of work for us to do in terms of stopping what they’re capable of.”