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16th Dec 2017

Leinster defy Murphy’s Law and just about everything else to mount incredible comeback

Jack O'Toole

Before Mike Tyson’s second world title fight with Evander Holyfield in June 1997, Kid Dynamite famously told reporters “Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze.”

A few days later, Holyfield was standing in the middle of the MGM Grand Garden Arena with blood streaming down his right ear.

There wasn’t quite the same level of violence between Leinster and Exeter at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, but it wasn’t that far off the brutality of a Heavyweight title fight.

Johnny Sexton left the game in the first two minutes after receiving yet another blow to the head. Sean Cronin propelled himself like a human missile into Exeter flanker Don Armand, and Ross Byrne collided with Nic White in a collision that looked like it belonged on the M50 instead of Lansdowne Road.

Like all car crashes, there’s something oddly eye catching about watching the carnage of the crumpled vehicles, but in this case, the victims were fortunately able to return to their feet and return to work after Byrne passed a HIA assessment while White was unusually classed as a blood substitution.

Both Byrne and White undertook the necessary protocols, but for some strange reason, Cronin was excused from the process when he showed all the signs of a player that should have been sent towards the stands instead of the scrum.

Why pay for insurance if you’re not going to try and look for compensation after a crash?

The HIA is not a bulletproof system but at least send players in to receive an assessment rather than throw them straight back into the firing line.

Last Sunday, Leinster managed to win the territorial battle in a landslide victory but here they were well and truly stuck in the trenches.

Leo Cullen’s side have been lauded for their depth and their ability to mix brain with brawn, but here they showed an ability to overcome adversity.

Leinster are a different team without Johnny Sexton. As promising as Ross Byrne appears to be as an understudy, the Blues just aren’t the same without their primary playmaker.

Byrne still plays quite flat, but outside of a beautiful inside ball to Fergus McFadden, the UCD fly-half acted largely as as a distributor and never really looked like he was going to do anything other than send his forward runners barreling into the Exeter defence.

The Chiefs line held strong for the most part, but Leinster kept chipping away and they finally got their reward when Luke McGrath crossed the line after an excellent break from Dan Leavy.

However, in the midst of a game that seemingly never diverted from chaos, Leinster benefited massively from the calming presence of Isa Nacewa.

The veteran winger had a rather quite game on the left touchline. He offered a modest six runs for 20 metres in attack, and while he was a deadeye in front of goal, he was the calming influence when Leinster looked like the wheels were about to fall off following Byrne’s head-to-head clash with White.

Leinster will not look forward to their video analysis session next week, there will be a lot of holes to pick through, but all great teams have horrible patches of play.

However, the best sides know how to rally and react when they’ve been punched in the face.

Leinster got their nose bloodied but they still had their hand raised when the final bell sounded.

And ultimately, for Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, that’s all that ever matters.

  • Amendment – Nic White did not undergo a Head Injury Assesment. He was replaced by Will Chudley as a blood substitute.

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