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Leinster need to follow Munster’s lead and sign some marquee names

The province’s European successes have seen key inputs from world stars

One of the standout features of this dismembered rugby season was when Damian de Allende and RG Snyman appeared in Munster colours.

De Allende, a 28-year-old in his prime, played a pivotal role at inside centre in South Africa's third World Cup win. Munster managed to prise him out of Japan's Panasonic Wild Knights, where his 47 Springbok caps had him choicely positioned to swell his 'life beyond rugby' pension pot.

Snyman, a 24-year-old secondrow, was on the bench for the World Cup final as one of Rassie Erasmus's 'Bomb Squad' , a player fiendishly deployed to serious effect in the latter part of games during the tournament. He replaced Eben Etzebeth with 21 minutes remaining in their World Cup final win over England.

The broad reaction was ‘chapeau’ Munster. Two quality signings, positive messaging to send out to fans, genuine ambition to show the club’s intent to climb back to the top end of European competition. Big love. A grand gesture. Costly.


In May of this year the province followed Leinster in suspending renewals of season tickets for the 2020/21 campaign due to the pandemic lockdown. Munster are also on the wrong side of an outstanding €6.9 or €9.4 million loan – depending on where you look – to the IRFU. Either way it's a lot of money and under the circumstances a ballsy move to sign De Allende and Snyman.

Munster saw two World Cup winners, who outside of the coaching groups in UL would drive standards, bring a strong, outcome-driven culture. They saw two players who would fearlessly roll up their sleeves and metaphorically slap their opponents in the mouth. And so Munster filled their wheelbarrow full of cash.

It was a striking counterpoint to Leinster, who signed no big names at all and the question in the context of losing to Saracens last week is, was it prudent? No doubt, it was ballsy too, taking a solo run on largely homegrown talent, most of them from south Dublin.

But was it smart? Can Leinster produce everything themselves. History would tend to say probably not. History would tend to suggest that one or two strong external voices is the difference between a very good team and a Champions Cup-winning side.

Over the four Heineken Cups that Leinster have won there has been a common thread of influential characters. Isa Nacewa was present in all four of Leinster's wins, the first two in 2009 and 2011 at fullback and in 2012 and 2018 on the wing.

Rocky Elsom was the colossus signing for the first 19-6 win over Leicester in 2009 playing at blindside flanker. The generational talent, Brian O'Driscoll, who intelligently upskilled parts of his game as age downgraded others, was also an important central figure.

Hard edge

Capped 75 times, Elsom took over from Stirling Mortlock as Australian captain and went on to be the most-capped Australian blindside flanker. A serial man-of-the-match winner, few players have had as much influence on an Irish team. "A Leonardo da Vinci in studs," wrote his biographer Bret Harris.

We less remember his jamming music sessions in a local apartment in Ballsbridge and more his pounding of Leicester behemoth Alesana Tuilagi in the Heineken Cup final at Murrayfield and commentator Stuart Barnes observing "Tuilagi psychologically knocked backwards".

In 2011 O'Driscoll was there again with Nacewa but Leinster also had Nathan Hines, the Australian-born Scotland international secondrow, who had originated in rugby league. Hines gave Leinster strop and a hard edge. He took it and he dished it out enough to earn him 77 Scottish caps.

In 2012 Isa and BOD were scheming again, this time with Brad Thorn. Born in New Zealand, Thorn represented Australia in rugby league and New Zealand in rugby union. A World Cup winner in 2011, he only spent three months in Leinster. But long after he was gone the tone in which players spoke about the All Black lock was borderline reverential.

James Lowe is talented but not the influential powerhouses Thorn or Elsom were, not the enforcer Hines was. Jamison Gibson-Park similarly while Scott Fardy is closer but was left out of the Saracens match for Devin Toner, James Ryan and Ryan Baird.

Now 36-years-old, Fardy at 34 started at blindside flanker in the 2018 Champions Cup final with Nacewa in Leinster's 15-12 win over Racing. Ulster had such an influence in South African Ruan Pienaar before he was forced to leave Irish rugby.

One catalytic player can influence, energise, use intellectual capital to galvanise. He is unlikely to be "spooked" as coach Leo Cullen said Leinster were post Saracens.

The Thorns and the Elsoms of the rugby world, they show front all the time because that’s what they do. They whisper in ears, instinctively make the right decisions. More often than not they lead and they confront because it’s in their DNA.

Thorn would have looked at Maro Itoje and said to himself "I can fix this problem". Then he would fix it. Elsom and Michael Rhodes. Sorted. Problem solvers. Game smarts. It's why Toulouse opened their wallet and made 37-year-old Jerome Kaino their captain.

Leinster may go on another 25-match winning streak. But Cullen and Lancaster think bigger than that. A combination of Leinster ambition and Munster action, a few marquee names to reinforce home grown talent. Only the bank could complain.