Tuesday 25 October 2016

Brent Pope: D'Arcy and Jennings deserve the perfect Leinster send off

Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy
Leinster's Gordon D'Arcy
Brian O'Driscoll in conversation with Leinster's Shane Jennings

It does not even bear thinking that Leinster, once hailed as one of the great forces in European rugby, should be consigned to second tier rugby next year.

It surely can't happen, although they may need to get maximum points against an in-form Edinburgh on the very last day. For most Leinster supporters, it is sickening that Leinster are in that precarious position.

The one thing you could say about Munster rugby supporters over the years is even in the down days, their supporters stayed fiercely loyal. They generally voted with their feet, especially in Thomond Park, and showed that they were prepared to stick with their team.

While Leinster's PRO12 clash against lowly Italian outfit Benetton Treviso in the RDS tonight represents a potential "stay at home" response even for season ticket holders, hopefully Leinster's fans will keep the turnstiles ticking over.

Since May 2014 Leinster have won at least one major trophy each season, seven in total, and the best Matt O' Connor's side can hope to finish in this competition is just outside the top four.

Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Jennings

Not a great return on supporters' investment. But despite a fairly spasmodic season, both in terms of results and playing style, Leinster could still have snatched European rugby's top prize. Granted, they would have needed a rabbit's foot for luck, especially given they had a pretty good group seeding and were in some regards lucky to beat Bath.

But on the bigger stage they performed. Who knows, given Clermont's continued stage fright on final day, if Leinster could have just got over Toulon, then the Leinster supporters would have hailed the season as a success.

Support, as with results, often hinge on small margins. Results aside, disappointments aside, the fans still need to turn up tonight, not least because the players need to feel their support, but vitally because two of Leinster's most faithful servants bow out.

Last week I waxed lyrical in this column about Shane Jennings and the contribution he made to Leinster rugby, not only as a player but a leader as well.

I am all out of polish to describe suitable accolades for the brilliant Gordon D'Arcy, who will not only go down as one of the greats of Leinster rugby, but also one of the most respected centres in the game.


D'Arcy's combination with fellow Irish and Leinster legend Brian O Driscoll (once a world record pairing at international level) for well over a decade defined both Leinster and Irish rugby success.

The 2004 Six Nations Player of the Year, D'Arcy was as much a contributor to Leinster's success as his long-time captain and friend.

O' Driscoll won't mind me saying that their partnership was like Peter Stringer and Ronan O'Gara's during Munster's European reign, and appeared at times almost telepathic, with each player almost knowing instructively the lines of running or the defensive role that the other would take.

It was a symbiotic relationship that only the best combinations have. Sometimes D'Arcy would take the role of midfield bludgeoner to O'Driscoll's creative flair, sometimes the roles were reversed, but together they proved to be the most dangerous attacking and defensive duo since Batman and Robin.

Jennings and D'Arcy, with nearly 500 caps between them for their province, deserve the RDS to be packed to the rafters, and they deserve a roar from a capacity crowd that will remind them of just how much their people appreciate what they have given to the blue jersey. Speaking to a number of Leinster supporters since the Toulon match there still appears a hangover from a season that promised so much.

Despite a sudden bout of media and in- camp squad support, the actual people that pay the bulk of the players' wages are still juggling with their views about their coach and some of Leinster's big-name imports.

That is the way of sport at this level. Win and the cracks are often easily papered over - lose and questions are asked. The supporters have a right to their opinions, because without them professional rugby has no game.


After the end of this season the jackhammers will move in for the summer, and in two years a sparkling new 25,000 capacity stadium will be unveiled. Two prodigal sons will return in the form of Fijian Isa Nacewa, and Johnny Sexton.

Sexton will be heavily involved in the World Cup while Nacewa, such a popular player in his time at Leinster and possibly the best overseas European signing of all time, will return after a two-year sabbatical with the Auckland Blues.

Fingers crossed that Nacewa can reproduce the form that made him such a Leinster favourite. But after two years out of the game and now 32, will he be the same player?

There was always be a school of thought that says a player should retire at the top and be remembered that way. Only time will tell.

For me, next season starts tonight, with a massive show of support for Jennings and D'Arcy, and a chance to see if Leinster's new guard can unearth some more greats.

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