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Friday, 24 May 2013

Rugby News, Rabo Pro 12 Final 2013, Leinster Rugby, Ulster Rugby, Brian ODriscoll,

Nothing can wipe the assured expression from the face of Brian O’Driscoll today, although there is one question. Brian, after next year . . . have you thought about another year after that? Yesterday’s conversation in Belfield at least steered the conversation away from the Seán O’Brien “wounded knee” affair that rumbles on.

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O’Driscoll, though, is good. He’s fine. He’s fit and ready to go. Richardt Strauss and Fergus McFadden are too. They’ve shrugged off their ailments in a day of Leinster optimism and for the centre another day of clarity about the future, his body, his career and the one more year after next.

“You get sick of answering the same questions, you get sick of your own voice and I’d say you people were getting sick of hearing the same answers,” he said. “I really can’t get into another year of speculation of will it be one more. I’m saying it’s one more year and that’s it.”

It seems churlish to pique O’Driscoll as he faces into a possible fourth final defeat (Munster and Ospreys twice) or a victorious double of Challenge Cup and League. The back spasm issue has been resolved and he looks forward to meeting one of the few teams that arrive to Dublin with bragging rights.

More hard-bitten caution in his voice than apprehension, he sees Ulster as deserving league toppers with tomorrow’s outing in the RDS one that will turn on small margins or moments in the game.

Familiarity and taut nerves will see to that. Ulster may not have the bravado or flourish of Leinster but twice this season they have discovered how to bring hurt to Dublin.

“They’ve gotten better,” said O’Driscoll. “They brought in a couple of big performers. Nick Williams has been a revelation for them. Tommy (Bowe) coming back has just given them that extra dimension. Jared Payne at 15 has been phenomenal.

“They probably could have had a few guys in the running for Rabo Player of the Year. Their consistency has shown they deserve to be top of the pile at the end of the regular season, before knockout.”

Spirit good
The spirit in the Leinster camp has been good this week although there has been less time spent with “on feet” sessions after a long season and last week’s win over Stade Francais. But the 34-year-old breaks into a wry smile lest anyone should confuse high spirits with party mood. He puts it to bed quite like the two more years suggestion.

“The spirits are high but we won’t rely on high spirits to win this game. It will be sleeves up,” he says. “Clarity is what we need. That is going to win us or lose us the game.”

Understanding that the precedents are almost overwhelming and knowing that two finals in quick succession brings a particular dynamic, this is a week that Leinster are showing respect. Looking back at the final phase last year that cost the match and Leinster seemed uncharacteristically limp when the time came to grab victory.

Hangs in air
The bald facts recalled and O’Driscoll’s sense of professional pride bristles as the impression that Leinster may have blown it still hangs in the air. It was costly alright and as Ulster will look to the areas that allowed them win twice, Leinster hope there are dividends to be taken from a final defeat 12 months ago.

“It was the manner in which we lost the game. We were in control of it,” he explained. “We were nine points up with eight minutes to play and you should usually have the ability to see out those sorts of games.

“So we lacked the ability to close it out. It was sickening the manner in which it happened and took the shine off our (Heineken Cup) victory the previous week. I wouldn’t say it stayed with me for the year or that it haunts me but I look back on it as one that got away.”

On a personal level he is hoping the well-worn trade-off will work and freshness will compensate for his recent lack of game time.

“I played three games in a row. Then I benched for a game, the idea being that I’d hopefully have three games in the run-in. But I’ve only had 12 minutes so it’s been frustrating,” he says.

Maybe no bad thing.