Well, it was an exciting weekend of rugby action, especially for Irish fans, with Leinster winning their first-ever Rabo12 title, Geordan Murphy helping Leicester winning a record 10th Premiership title, and Rory Best been called up to the Lions.
Best’s call-up also means a change in the Irish squad scheduled to tour the United States and Canada. Peter O’Mahony takes over as captain, while Sean Cronin replaces Best at hooker.
Best replaces Dylan Hartley, who received an 11-week ban for verbally abusing a referee during Northampton’s defeat to Leicester in the Aviva Premiership final on Saturday.
It was a bad weekend all around for Hartley. He was sent off in the Premiership final, for calling the ref an ‘F’ing cheat’, and his dismissal left Northampton a man down, Hartley was captain as well, which contributed to them losing the game, and the title.
Hartley had been warned a number of times during the game, and the abuse was the final straw. He has a poor disciplinary record, been banned in the past, for both gouging and biting(!) opposition players which went against him in the hearing.
Hartley won’t be appealing the ban, which brings an end to his Lions career, for the moment, anyway. He’s only 27, so he’ll have another chance to tour, to New Zealand (where he’s from) in 2017, if he hasn’t been kicked out of the game by then!
The incident reminds me of when, in 2009, former Ireland and Munster back-row Alan Quinlan had been chosen for the Lions squad, but gouged a player in a match and was subsequently banned and missed the tour.
Leinster were appearing in their 4th successive Rabo final, having lost to Ospreys, 31-30 in 2012, 19-9 to Munster in 2011, and Ospreys again, 17-12 in 2009 . This year they were up against Ulster.
Leinster fought hard to win a tough game, 24-18. Leinster were the superior team, scoring tries through Jennings and Heaslip, both converted by Jonny Sexton, and 3 Sexton penalties. Ruan Pienarr kicked 6 penalties for Ulster.
There was an injury scare for Leinster before the game, with Rob Kearney been ruled out. Isa Nacewa switched to full back, and Leinster got the early lead through a try by Shane Jennings.
Leinster kept up the momentum with some good running, and defended well, never letting Ulster in to score. Ulster tried to get back into the game, but a try by Jaimie Heaslip finished them off, and Leinster came away with the double.
The win caps a terrific season, and a remarkable tenure, for Leinster. After having won the Amlin trophy the week before, they’ve now added a first Rabo title. This makes it an amazing, 5 trophies in the last 4 years.
Leinster have been one of the top European teams in the last few years, having won 3 of the last 4 Heineken cups, appeared in the last 4 Rabo finals, and winning their first time in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
There were 3 men who helped Leinster achieve this amazing record and the Rabo win marks their final association with the club/province. Joe Schmidt is leaving to coach the Irish rugby team, Jonny Sexton is moving to Racing Metro, and Isa Nacewa is retiring.
AVIVA PREMIERSHIP FINAL
Leicester have been one of the top teams in Europe, having won back-to-back Heineken titles, in 2001 and 2002, and losing finalists in 2007 and 2009. Leicester have also appeared in 9 consecutive Premiership finals, since 2005, winning 4.
This year’s final was against Northampton, which Leicester won, 37-17. It was a hard-fought, dramatic final, but will be overshadowed by the Hartley red card. Northampton never gave up but were unable to overcome the stronger Leicester side.