Three reasons why Leinster clinched their fourth European Champions Cup

Dan Owen 13/05/2018
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Leinster celebrate their fourth European success

Leinster clinched their fourth Champions Cup after a 15-12 win over Racing 92 – in a game that was more attrition than attraction.

The Bilbao final may not go down as a classic due to a lack of tries, and any real try-scoring opportunities, but that will not concern the Irishmen.

It was their fourth success in a decade, and places them atop of the all-time standings with Toulouse.

Here are three reasons why they leave Spain with the silverware.

Adaptability

Going into the game Leinster had scored more tries (38), gained more metres (4,394) and beaten more defenders (215), than any other side in the competition. They were very much, the entertainers.

Racing, to their credit, deprived of the talents of Maxime Machenaud and Dan Carter before the game – and then Patrick Lambie just moments into it, managed to turn the match into what effectively looked like a Top14 game.

If Racing had more confidence at fly half, they may well have pushed the boat out more themselves – they did score three times against Clermont and Munster in the quarters and semis respectively.

As it was, practically nothing came outside the first runner off nine for the team from Paris, they kicked well, and tried to wear-down the opposition in a blood and thunder forwards battle.

Leinster were able to suck up the pressure however and, in the main, nullify the heavy artillery the Frenchmen threw at them.

Given the expansive, offloading game-plan Leinster will have no doubt gone into the final with, it was a measure of the side that they could adapt so proficiently.

Defence

Racing 92's French scrum-half Teddy Iribaren bossed things for the French side

Racing 92’s French scrum-half Teddy Iribaren bossed things for the French side

With Racing mainly employing first up runners off scrum-half Teddy Iribaren, it was clear to see where the threat was coming from.

At the top echelons of the game, in isolation, it is not a difficult task to defend this. However, the fact that the Boys in Blue could absorb the barrage and still look like they were not going to be penetrated, was both testament to their fitness, and outright desire not to lose.

Also key was their discipline at the breakdown. To concede just four penalties on the scoreboard was, no bad return, and allowed them to always stay in touch in a game that would have been incredibly frustrating to play in.

Knowing how to win

Teddy Thomas will have nightmares about his decision making late-on in the Champions Cup final

Teddy Thomas will have nightmares about his decision making late-on in the Champions Cup final

It takes unerring self-belief to be able to trail for 76 minutes of a game, and still never look panicked.

Three titles in the previous nine years, shows the club knows exactly what it takes to dine at Europe’s top table and their ability to operate with clarity of thought and action in the most tense of situations is mighty impressive.

When Remi Tales, dragged his stoppage-time drop goal to the left of the upright, there was an air of inevitability. You can’t help but think if it was at the other end and it was Johnny Sexton’s right boot swinging the outcome would have been very different.

Tales can’t be seen as the man who cost Racing however, that honour must go to Teddy Thomas. Quite what the winger was thinking when, having gathered a ball his forwards had stolen at a lineout deep in their own territory, he headed back outside and was bundled into touch, is anyone’s guess. The fact Leinster notched a penalty from the resulting play compounded what was a dreadful piece of decision making.

On the other side of the coin, Leinster looked composed. Isa Nacewa notching two later penalties with ease, and seeing those around him make the right decisions, and execute, at the key moments.

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Cardiff Blues coach Danny Wilson heaps praise on Gareth Anscombe after win over Gloucester

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Outgoing Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson hailed Gareth Anscombe as “phenomenal” after his late penalty secured a thrilling 31-30 win against Gloucester in the European Challenge Cup final in Bilbao.

Having missed a levelling conversion from the opposite touchline just two minutes earlier, Anscombe was coolness personified in front of the 32,543 crowd at San Mames Stadium as he kicked Cardiff to their second Challenge Cup title in eight years.

Wilson, who is leaving to take up an assistant coach position with Wasps, felt the praise belonged to his players after the victory.

“I have to praise Gareth for his quality kicks out of hand and obviously the winning kick from the touchline in front of that crowd in a European final, I just think it’s is phenomenal and shows the quality of player that he is,” Wilson said.

“It’s great (to finish with a European trophy) but it’s not about me, it’s about this group. This group have gelled unbelievably over a three-year period. It’s been a real roller-coaster.

“We all had one objective this season and we still felt we could achieve it, even though we had some real downers at the start of the season both on and off the field.

“We thought that we could come together and still achieve something. And it’s a credit to the group from my point of view.

“To leave this group of players is tough, and emotionally it’s tough because I’ve got some great relationships with them. It’s fitting that they’ve got the rewards that they’ve worked 110 per cent to fully deserve.”

The Blues were teetering on the brink when trailing 20-6 at half-time, with Henry Trinder and Mark Atkinson crossing for Gloucester and the Welsh region losing Josh Navidi and Owen Lane to injury.

However, the 2010 champions stormed back with tries from Tomos Williams and Garyn Smith in a rousing 13-point surge, including Jarrod Evans’ third successful penalty.

James Hanson’s maul try and Billy Twelvetrees’ continued accuracy off the tee – he finished with 15 points – gave Gloucester a 30-23 lead, but it was not enough as Lewis Ludlow’s yellow card was followed by Blaine Scully’s try and full-back Anscombe’s all-important kick.

Match-winner Anscombe said: “I was really disappointed to miss the first conversion. We reacted really well.

“I just tried to clear my head and stick to my routine, and sort of let the crowd tell me if it went over. I was just really lucky and thankful when I picked up the tee that it went where it was supposed to go.”

Johan Ackermann

It was more misery for Gloucester and coach Johan Ackermann.

It was more European heartbreak for Gloucester just 12 months on from a final defeat to Stade Francais.

Their South African coach Johan Ackermann refused to be drawn on a deleted post-match tweet from the official Gloucester Twitter account which criticised referee Jerome Garces’ decision to award the late Cardiff penalty.

Ackermann said: “That is sport, sometimes decisions go against you. That’s emotions speaking, we’re all emotional if we lose. Somebody had to lose tonight.

“There’s always decisions. Even the last decision I could argue that it was a ruck, Cardiff should have released the ball, our cleaner was there. Why the penalty? Why not a scrum?

“I’m not going to sleep well tonight, I’m probably not going to sleep well for the next seven, eight nights because it’s the third final in a row that I’ve lost. Sometimes things will go for us, sometimes things will not.”

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Ex-Abu Dhabi Harlequins player McMillan Chiwawa sets up company to nurture young talent

Matt Jones 11/05/2018
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McMillan Chiwawa (r) played for Abu Dhabi Harlequins for five seasons.

A former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player has launched his own sports management agency looking to unearth young talents across the globe and give those hidden gems, whose path to success might otherwise be blocked by financial difficulties, a chance to shine.

McMillan Chiwawa has established Chiwawa Pro Management and Marketing in his native Zimbabwe in a bid to help give back to the sport – an idea he said was partly inspired by the impact of playing at Quins had on him.

The 24-year-old lived in the UAE for almost eight years and played for Quins from 2010-16. He also spent a year at cross-city rivals Saracens before moving back to his homeland in 2017.

A lively winger blessed with searing pace, Chiwawa’s prowess saw him invited to train with the UAE national sevens squad under former coach Roelof Kotze. And although he never earned a cap for his adopted country, Chiwawa went on to earn recognition on the international invitational sevens circuit, plucked to play for the likes of Headhunters and Selects 7s in America.

As well as creating a player pathway link with his old club, Chiwawa has also managed to secure partnerships with Titans Rugby Club in Hawaii and two more clubs in the USA.

“Chiwawa Pro Management and Marketing focuses on athletes of all ages who haven’t had the chance to get that exposure on a professional level,” said Chiwawa.

“I’ve always wanted to give back to my Quins family as a lot of my success stems from the club. I had a word with head coach Mike McFarlane about a possible player pathway link and this idea turned into reality.

McMillan Chiwawa in action for Harlequins v Bahrain in the 2014/15 season.

McMillan Chiwawa (c) in action for Harlequins v Bahrain in the 2014/15 season.

“Harlequins, Titans and two more clubs in the USA have given me the go ahead to start my search for talent.

“My pool of selection begins at home in Zimbabwe as I’ve been appointed as junior coach at Prince Edward School who are in the top three rugby schools in Zimbabwe.

“They agreed to host Harlequins juniors in the future if they ever were to tour over here and vice versa as they also tour yearly and playing Quins is in their plans.

“The player pathway link will help to give athletes a clear future plan in any part of the world despite economic difficulties and my drive is giving back to the sport of rugby and my long-time club Quins for the impact they’ve had on my life and career.”

Chiwawa’s journey will be documented by the Zimbabwe Broadcast Cooperation who will submit the project to London-based Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa who owns Kwese Sports.

Chiwawa’s company currently represent Zimbabwe 7s rugby player Kuda Chiwanza and Zimbabwe cricketer Ryan Burl.

“My dream is to grow sports in my home country and anywhere else I can reach, with the Gulf being a solid destination on my map,” added Chiwawa, who praised former Quins player manager and team-mate Jeremy Manning for his help, and Dominic Budzisz, his coach on the American sevens scene, who has offered housing for athletes traveling to play in America.

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