Parking the past, it’s time for Leinster’s new stars to shine

The hat-trick heroes are dwindling in ever greater numbers.

Tadhg Furlong

It’s six years since Leinster claimed the last of their three Heineken Cups and only 10 of the players who played some part in those memorable days remain on the books.

Jamie Heaslip was the latest to clock out, just a handful of weeks ago.

Isa Nacewa and Richardt Strauss will follow suit once this season joins the others in the history books. Strauss, and three more of the ‘survivors’ are injured and will thus play no part tomorrow, as Leinster seek a fourth European Cup.

That leaves just six this week. The teams they are a changing and the sense is of a new, younger generation eager to write their own notable passage in the annals. In fairness, they have been telling us as much for three seasons now.

Time and again come Champions Cup weeks we have heard a Dan Leavy or a Josh van der Flier or a Tadhg Furlong voice the desire to live up to that great 2012 Leinster side.

Now, they stand just 80 minutes away from doing just that.

“When you talk about adding a star to the jersey, the drive to succeed and be a part of something special like teams before us, that’s what drives you on to try and be as good as you can every day,” said Furlong this week.

“When it comes to the week of the game, you’re literally just focusing on — I know it sounds boring, but it’s incredibly true — your job, trying to maximise your preparation, leaving no stone unturned and getting yourself in the best physical and mental state.”

Furlong was a schoolboy when Leinster claimed their first title under Michael Cheika in 2009. He was a member of the sub-academy when the province doubled up two years later and an academy cadet when the third was secured in 2012.

“Since then, we’ve gotten to semi-finals, but we’ve never really pushed on and, as a young fella, you want to get that respect,” he explained.

You want to be able to stand over something from your time. That’s something that massively drives it on. It’s something that I’ve thought about over the last few years. It’s something that you really want to succeed at and it means a massive amount to me.

The likes of Furlong, Leavy, and James Ryan are no babes entering the woods. They are Grand Slam winners, elite players hardened by the edge that comes with Test rugby and they will lean on that this weekend.

That said, the presence of veterans in the mould of Jonathan Sexton, Rob Kearney, and Cian Healy will still serve as pillars... and as reminders of the heights the club once scaled with regularity, though no-one sees any need to harp on about the glory days.

There’s certainly no speeches about what we did in 2011 or 2009 or 2012,” said Furlong.

He’s accustomed to the whims of such weeks, now. Comfortable with them. Wednesday may have been a day off, but he stuck to the routine of popping in for some video analysis and a bit of scrum chat with forwards coach John Fogarty.

It will be tomorrow, gameday, before the occasion begins to produce a tingle. A restlessness that he fights and enjoys all at once.

That accumulation of adrenalin up to the point where they leave the dressing-room for the last time.

The impression with Furlong these days is of a player and a man who has enjoyed a linear rise straight to the top of his trade.

A tighthead who emerged from the club game in Wexford as some sort of gem, with little required in the way of polish.

It’s not quite true, of course.

Furlong has had his ups and downs, among them his fifth cap for Ireland, against France in Paris in 2016, when he was part of a scrum that was twisted and tortured by the hosts in a late, game-winning sequence of setpieces.

Among the French eight? Racing 92 loosehead tomorrow, Eddy Ben Arous.

“It was a tough day for me but, at the same time, when you have bad days it is easy to be self-critical…

“Or, you see a young prop and maybe he doesn’t have a great day, but what you say to him is ‘don’t try and rip up the script’. Don’t try to change everything. Just tweak one or two things, learn your lessons, understand the feeling and how you can fix that at a scrum or how you can fix that one-on-one. Don’t get too carried away by the highs, but don’t get too carried away by the lows.”

Tomorrow will test that zen approach, one way or the other.


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