Two weeks ago we attended Leinster Rugby’s last regular season match at the RDS against Treviso. It was such a fun time out, but what was really wonderful about that match was it put Leinster at the top of the Guinness Pro 12 standings and set the team up for an at-home semi-final match. Later that night, fans learned the match would be against Ulster, a team we lost pretty handily against a few weeks prior. (That was a really terrible day to be a Leinster fan.) I was nervous about our chances against them given the mounting injuries the Leinster team has been sporting, paired with that unceremonious trouncing, but the second tickets were available for general purchase, I logged on and got ours. Then all we had to do was sit back and wait for match day to get here.
The weather in Dublin lately has been pretty fantastic. Sunny days and mild nights, but in the last couple of days the weather has taken a turn and the rain returned. In fact, rain was in the forecast all day yesterday, but with the exception of a few sprinkles here and there, we left for the match with our fingers crossed. Approaching the RDS from the back of a taxi via Donnybrook was pretty exciting, as earlier that day the streets became lined with Leinster flags every couple of feet. And the second we stepped through the gates, the mood turned electric. The match was sold out, with additional seating being brought in to accommodate more fans. Not surprisingly, with Belfast being only a couple of hours away, there was plenty of Ulster red in the stands as well. One of the things I’ve grown to love about rugby – something you don’t find in the states – is that fans here are generally respectful toward one another and toward opposing teams. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that come World Cup and Six Nations time, those teams are made up of players from all the provinces and so for a few matches a year you’re rooting for guys who you normally wouldn’t. I know I had a real hard time rooting against the Munster players when they played Leinster at Aviva a few weeks after the Six Nations tournament wrapped up.
This was the third time we’ve sat in the Grandstand and our seats were pretty epic! There’s a lot to be said for being in the front row with an unobstructed view! (The only downside to these seats and why I’d be afraid to have them for the season is that they’re not very well protected from the elements, and as I found out at the open training session a couple of weeks back, you will get wet when it rains if you’re sitting there.)
We arrived early enough to watch the tail end of the warm-up session, which included Ian Madigan – one of my favorite players – spending some extra time on the pitch practicing his kicking game. This is Madigan’s last time playing for Leinster at the RDS before he moves on to play with Bordeaux Begles next season, so last night’s match was a bit of a swan song for him. Alan gives me a lot of shit for being a fan of Madigan, but I can’t help it. The second I watched him step in for Johnny Sexton in the Rugby World Cup against France and help lead the team to victory, I became a fan. I’ve always had a soft spot for players that have a ton of heart who get their chance to shine in a major and unexpected way. I dunno, it’s just a thing I have. And yes, I’ll admit it right now: generally speaking, fans of Madigan tend to be women. I mean, he’s a looker, no doubt, but the guy’s a class act through and through. When fans and press were giving the coach shit for not giving him more playing time, questioning his ability as a coach, Madigan defended Cullen as being the exact right man for the job and said he was happy for every minute he got in the jersey. In every interview he’s given about his decision to leave Dublin for Bordeaux, you see how much love he has for this club and that he didn’t make the decision lightly. And if you follow him on social media, he’s always promoting other Irish sports and lending his name and celebrity to charities and causes. I dunno, I just like the guy.
Anticipation in the stadium was growing to a fever pitch, with both Leinster and Ulster fans keyed up for the 7:45 p.m. kickoff. The teams were announced, made their way onto the pitch, and then it was game time! Like I said, I was super nervous about this match given our last performance against Ulster, but the team started off strongly and got on the board early with a try from Alan’s favorite player, Isa Nacewa. Johnny Sexton nailed every kick he made last night. In the minutes leading into halftime Ulster looked to be picking up steam and our guys seemed a bit tired, but our defense held strong and at the 40-minute mark we were still in the lead. Following half-time – in which teams of little kids get to take the field and play their own mini matches – Leinster came out strong and dominated play, with a few scores here and there from Ulster but ultimately it wasn’t enough.
There was a large group of friends sitting behind us and one of them, an Ulsterman, was quite vocal in his dislike of all things Leinster. Whether it was heckling Dave Kearney every chance he got, or loudly proclaiming how soft Jamie Heaslip was, by halftime I was Done. With. Him. It also didn’t help the situation that he arrived wearing an over-abundance of cologne that made my lungs seize up and my eyes water. So when Heaslip – my other favorite player on the team – scored a major try, I took great joy in turning around and giving him a mocking grin while all around everyone cheered and waved their flags. Remember what I said above about good sportsmanship? Well, that’s something I’m still trying to come to grips with because I grew up where the taunt, “IN YOUR FACE!” was considered polite banter. But yeah, I really loved seeing his smugness erased as it became more and more clear that Leinster was going to win and move forward to the finals. I’m trying to be a better person, I swear, but sometimes I can still be a petty asshole.
It was definitely one of those nights when you walk out of a stadium feeling all sorts of amped up and excited. I practically skipped the entire way from Ballsbridge to Ranelagh where we dropped into The Taphouse, one of my favorite bars in the city (first discovered last May when we visited on our neighborhood scouting trip) for dinner and a couple of pints, and then the rest of the walk home to Rathmines. Here it is the next day and I still can’t get over how awesome it felt to be there in the stadium watching a team we quickly adopted play so freaking well. I’m so excited for our season tickets for next season!