Andy Farrell will be sorely tempted to finish the Six Nations with these lads 2 years ago

Andy Farrell will be sorely tempted to finish the Six Nations with these lads

They keep telling us it is a squad effort, and most of us still can't get our heads around the team announcements.

Andy Farrell and Richie Murphy were one of the lucky few hundred to make it along to the Aviva Stadium, on Saturday, to see if Ulster could derail the Leinster juggernaut. They gave it their all and even jolted the reigning champions but they were ultimately steam-rolled.


If you want to distill the Leinster success story into single position, look no further than openside flanker and the two men that have dominated in that role this season.

Leinster went into 2019/20 having said goodbye to Sean O'Brien [off to London Irish] and knowing that the excellent Dan Leavy would miss the majority of the season as he rehabbed his knee injury. Josh van der Flier was off in Japan, at the World Cup, so Will Connors and Scott Penny held down the fort.

So far, after 23 wins in a row, that trio have had the privilege and openside has been an area of real strength for Leinster. Connors has started 10 times, van der Flier eight and Penny has five starts [scoring four tries]. Penny, Rhys Ruddock, Josh Murphy and Max Deegan - a full Ireland international now - have all played big parts in that winning streak but all had to watch the Guinness PRO14 final from home.

It is getting harder and harder to predict Leinster's starting XV, and their coaches scold us [in the media] for obsessing with who is starting and who is on the replacements bench. The message must have gotten through to the players as they are coming and going with little fuss. Dominating games then receding into the shadows.


Look at van der Flier, for instance. He was Leinster's best forward in the August 22 victory over Munster and was then selected on the bench for the semi-final against the same opponents. When he got on, after 74 minutes, he was yellow-carded after a minute and saw out the game in the sin-bin.

Will Connors, meanwhile, was excellent against Ulster and again against Munster in the semi-final, where he was named man of the match. Leinster then swapped him out for the final and van der Flier started. It looked as though it might be a dicey call, only for van der Flier to keep it in the positional family by winning man of the match as Leinster blew Ulster out, 27-5.

Josh van der Flier has won two man of the match awards since the season resumed. (Credit: Sportsfile)

"Yeah, it's incredibly competitive," van der Flier observed after the game.

"There are obviously times like today where I feel very lucky to be in the starting position. I've said it before, but anyone in the back-row, you have to be playing at 100% and at your best and just hope that it's good enough to start because that's how competitive it is.

"Will has been absolutely unbelievable. Scott Penny and Dan Leavy have been training really well, as well. It's incredibly competitive, so you just know, like me today or Will in the last couple of weeks, if you get that opportunity, you have to take it and play really well.

"I'm sure it gives the coaches a bit of a selection headache. I think it's the same in a lot of positions. I was delighted to get the opportunity and delighted to represent the group – the lads who couldn't be here as well.

"The 20-odd lads who played in the PRO14 this season but didn't get a chance to be here or play today. This is very much for them. It's definitely a squad effort to get to this point."

"In people's minds," Leinster head coach Leo Cullen reflected, "maybe they have their starting 1 to 15 but it's not as simplistic as that.

"I think it's important that we have guys coming in to give fresh energy at different stages. I thought Josh did that and he led the forwards well. As you talked about, [quick] off the line and that energy that he brings - that physical presence at the ruck."


Saracens are next up, on Saturday, and do not be surprised if you see van der Flier on the sidelines for that European Cup quarter final. Connors has made shutting down barrelling No.8s his calling card so he would relish being set a taming task on Billy Vunipola. Jack Willis did a number on Vunipola in a recent Premiership clash so Leinster will have pored over that footage.

For Leinster, there is one definitive fixture circled in their calendar with two more to potentially see through before the season ends on October 17. Following that, a week off to decompress and then - for many Blues - into Ireland camp.

Watching that game from the Aviva Stadium stands, on Saturday, Andy Farrell will be sorely tempted to go with the current Leinster back row unit when the Guinness Six Nations comes back for its' 2020 fixtures on October 24 and 31.

Each of CJ Stander, Peter O'Mahony and Jordi Murphy would be doing extremely well to get ahead of the likes of Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Will Connors, Jack Conan when Test rugby takes the stage.