Leinster have become one of the most consistent teams in European rugby in recent months and they made it count against Munster on Saturday as their 21-12 victory over their provincial rivals moved them a step closer to Magners League glory.
Michael Cheika’s men have one hand on the league trophy after following up on November’s 10-3 success at Musgrave Park for the province’s first ever ‘season’s double’ over Munster.
But, when speaking afterwards, the Australian was mindful that despite recent good results, his side need to keep plugging away and putting the work in in order to keep up with the likes of Munster, who are preparing for a Heineken Cup semi-final.
“We need to keep producing consistent results, in this league in the next games that we have and when our opportunity comes in European competition, to get closer to Munster so that we can say we’re right up there with them,” he said.
“We can compete with them, we love competing with them. It brings out the best in both teams I imagine.
“That Munster team is such a strong team, they challenge you on everything. Even when you feel like you’ve got them, they still keep fighting against you.
“In the two matches we’ve played against them this season, it’s been an absolute arm wrestle the whole time.
“We’re obviously very happy in the context of what it was and with the crowd in particular. That’s the nosiest I’ve ever heard them and we really wanted to try and pay them back for what they’ve done.”
Although Leinster are now 12 points clear of the second-placed team in the league, Cardiff Blues, Cheika will not allow his players to take anything for granted over their final three games in the competition.
“We had a lot of belief and it’s clear that the hunger was there. We showed a lot of passion and a lot of intensity and the crowd were unbelievable.
“We’ve got a good group of players and there are no big heads here. We’ve got to assess the league now and try to go on to take the tournament. But you can’t take anything for granted in this league.”
There were some big performances on the night from Leinster’s players, hooker Bernard Jackman took the man-of-the-match award for another barnstorming display, Felipe Contepomi was in fine goal-kicking form and young out-half Jonathan Sexton in really coming of age.
Asked for his opinion on Sexton’s 80 minutes which he crowned with an excellent drop goal, Cheika said: “He saw gaps early on and took a few balls himself back into the channel, which means he is thinking for himself too. He’s not just thinking: ‘oh, this is what the coach told me to do.’ That’s not our way. It was good to see.
“He is reading the game himself, which is a good sign. He had the confidence to read the game himself and he had a go at the drop goal. Fair play because he knows he is going to get strife if he misses.”
Although clearly stepping up to the mark as his own player, the 22-year-old Sexton was keen to talk about the influence of the more experienced players around him in this Leinster side.
Commenting on Felipe Contepomi and Chris Whitaker, the two players closest to him on the pitch against Munster, he said: “They both help me along. During the week myself and Felipe talk about what we’re going to do and during the game he tells me to do one or two things.
“I take that on board but, at the same time, he tells me I’m in charge and I have to make the decisions because I have to take the flak when things don’t go right.
“He’s great to play with but it’s the guys up front as well, and Chris Whitaker, he’s unbelievable. He’s the best scrum half around, I think. He controls things for you and his passing is unbelievable. He’s a real pleasure to play with.”
Sexton also dished out the plaudits to the Leinster pack which is a much improved unit, compared to previous seasons.
“The forwards spoke about it, that it takes one bad performance and you guys (the media) will be on their backs again and they would be the typical Leinster pack again.
“It’s something we’re conscious of getting rid of, of Leinster being soft. We try to prove people wrong,” he added.