ONE OF THE ONLY surprises on a night when both Leinster and Ulster accelerated, in their respective second halves, to secure home Pro12 semi-finals was the man-of-the-match announcement at the RDS.
While Sean O’Brien excelled in the No.8 jersey, the 17,000 supporters at the old ground were expecting to hear Andrew Conway’s named called out for the fourth time over the loud speakers. The previous three times were for the tries he ran in as Leinster beat Ospreys 37-19 to set up a semi-final with Glasgow Warriors next Saturday.
O’Brien’s name echoed out and there was polite applause. Perhaps, with the winger heading down the N7 to Munster during the summer, Leinster preferred to keep things in-house. When coach Joe Schmidt was informed of the decision in the press-room, 15 minutes after the match, he arched his eyebrows and smiled before lavishing praise on his hat-trick hero and the man they call the Tullow Tank.
The news of Conway getting the runners-up award to O’Brien had sunk in by the time Schmidt, announced as Ireland head coach on Monday, spoke to TheScore.ie. Asked if Munster had made an astute signing, Schmidt replied:
Yeah, I think they have. Andrew, maybe, made the decision [to move] to avoid the log-jam with Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney there. That sometimes happens. At the same time, with Luke and Dave, I don’t think we’re too badly off as well.
“I’d be really hopeful that Dave Kearney would be available for next week. It’s three weeks now since he played. He’s still a little bit symptomatic, to be honest, so we have to wait until Monday or Tuesday to see if he is fit to play.”
With that, Schmidt took his leave, joking that it was a ‘stink question anyway’. Out with the new and a return to the old(er) in Kearney and Fitzgerald.
He may have scored his first hat-trick for Leinster but one has the feeling that Conway may be scoring many more before he hangs up his rugby boots.