Will Green recalls win over Toulouse: 'It was one of those days where everything we tried worked'

A rare Englishman in Irish ranks, home for his young family was a quirky little muse house in Sandymount within walking distance of the strand.
Will Green recalls win over Toulouse: 'It was one of those days where everything we tried worked'

BRIGHTEST MEMORY: Shane Horgan scored for Leinster against Toulouse in 2006, a move Will Green played a part in. Picture: Remy Gabalda

It ended with a Friday night pasting on a muddy pitch in Cardiff Arms Park but Will Green looks back at his two years with Leinster and embraces them as a wonderful coda to a career that had, until then, been spent amassing silverware and golden memories at Wasps.

He was 31 when he shipped up in Dublin. A rare Englishman in Irish ranks, home for his young family was a quirky little muse house in Sandymount within walking distance of the strand.

“We went to the beach a lot. It was lovely. As long as you looked right and not left at the chimneys then you would be alright. Belting fossil fuel! I just kept my eyes on Dun Laoghaire.”

This distaste for the Poolbeg stacks isn’t a surprise given his gig as MD of a company supplying sustainably sourced wood fuel around England’s southwest. For Green, rugby is long in the past but he is happy to make a return visit.

It’s 15 years this month since his brightest memory in blue. Toulouse 35, Leinster 41. A Heineken Cup quarter-final played in belting sunshine and a game that still stands the test of time from its dusty shelf in the YouTube vaults.

He flies through all the best bits: Brian O’Driscoll carving the French defence for the first try; Denis Hickie’s length-of-the-field score; and the planned move — in which he played a part — that ended with Shane Horgan dashing over for another five points.

“We went into it as massive underdogs. We always knew in that team that we had the potential to rip a big side. We did finish the pool stages well. We beat Bath away and we were bubbling a bit. It was one of those days where everything we tried worked.”

This was a Rubicon moment for Leinster. For Green it was far from the first time that he had got his feet wet against Toulouse. Go back 10 more years and his Wasps team shipped 49 points in Thomond one week before putting 77 on the Top 14 aristos a week later.

In 2004, the English Premiership outfit relieved Toulouse of their continental crown in the European final at Twickenham. So, yeah, he knew they were beatable. And he knew how to beat them.

“You had to stop them on the gain line or else they would just do this offloading game, which is like chasing shadows.”

Problem was that another difficult crossing awaited Leinster after that famous quarter-final win and they proved unable to navigate the sea of red that swept over them, in the stands and on the field, in that semi-final.

Time hasn’t healed the wound. Green admits that the stuffing administered by Munster that day in D4 still dims the brilliance of the epic that preceded it but those two results were equally necessary stepping stones on the way to ultimate success.

He laughs about how Leinster moved on up by replacing their “washed-up Englishman” with an enormous Springbok tighthead but key to the province’s metamorphosis from underachievers to overlords was Michael Cheika.

“I had been through a very similar situation at Wasps where the facilities were ridiculous. When (Warren) Gatland came to Wasps he completely ripped things up, put new gyms in, we all ate together. It was all the little things and, funny enough, it was a success. With Leinster it was the same thing.

“When Cheika got there we were training at Belvedere one day and somewhere else the next. It was all over the place. We were in the tiny little gym up at David Lloyds or somewhere else. It was just a shambles and Cheika very soon sort of ripped it up, got the investment and put a proper structure in place.

“The talent was always there, it just wasn’t professional. Lads didn’t really know what it was to be a pro and it was quite far into pro rugby at that point. It was a good nine years in but they were miles off it and it took three or four years for it to kick in. Now that it has, God, they’re something else.”

Leinster's Will Green goes through to score a try despite the tackle from Bath's Frikkie Welsh  during a 2006 Heineken Cup match. Picture; PA
Leinster's Will Green goes through to score a try despite the tackle from Bath's Frikkie Welsh  during a 2006 Heineken Cup match. Picture; PA

A strain of regret and even guilt seeps through when he looks back on his own part in the process. The Premiership was a weekly grind for a decade but the Magners was a more occasional affair and his body actually struggled to adapt to the slower pace.

For all the injuries and issues, Green clocked in 44 times across his two seasons, both of which ended in disappointment with Cheika’s improving but still imperfect side twice falling short of a league title on the final day.

“Pro rugby is brutal and at the end it was literally a wet Friday night in Cardiff, got stuffed by a 19-year old. Over. That’s it. I’d had some bloody good days so I wasn’t bitter. I could have done another year but my neck wasn’t great and 20 more games of rugby? To what end?”

Four years coaching at Worthing, in England’s fourth tier, followed. He got a buzz from playing a part in shepherding Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury and others on towards the elite game but that’s been it for him for rugby.

Actively, at least.

He’s still close to the likes of Simon Shaw, Alex King and Andy Gomersall who graduated through the ranks with him at Wasps and played their parts in an era that delivered Premiership titles, European crowns and Anglo-Welsh Cups.

One of his four kids, Ross, is a No 8 on the books at Bath. Dada is good for tips but, like everyone he played with and against, he marvels at how the game has changed.

“I even watch training sessions and I don’t recognise some of the drills. They’re brilliant drills, so well-thought out. They’re miles off what we were doing but then rugby is still a physical game at the end of the day.

“He would tell me, ‘Dad, we did this three-on-three keep-ball drill’ and I would say, ‘Ross, you can butter up all these drills, but rugby is 15 on 15. You can get all fancy but it’s still all about grunt’.”

Once a prop, always a prop.

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