By Phil Rice
The 1927 New York Yankees were so successful that it was said their opponents were often beaten before they took to the field.
The team line-up became known as “Murderers Row.” Babe Ruth scored 60 home runs in the season.
The intimidation factor was palpable, and their opposition often conceded defeat before a ball was pitched.
Watching Leinster during their Champions Cup games to date is reminiscent of the Yankees’ intimidating aura. Racing 92 appeared to concede defeat very early during the first round of matches.
Two early scores by Leo Cullen’s team and the Racing players’ heads started to drop. It became almost inevitable that they would lose from early on in proceedings.
In the second round of matches Gloucester quite literally did concede defeat before the match started, by fielding their reserve team in the knowledge that they were going to be hammered.
Last Saturday, Gloucester sent out their strongest side and Leinster were 14 points up within ten minutes, and the result was already beyond doubt.
They proceeded to demolish their opponents and eased their way to a 49-14 victory, against a club who pride themselves on intimidating their opposition at their hostile Kingsholm home ground.
Traditionally teams who struggle in the scrum end up getting beaten comfortably, but for much of the game Leinster were out-scrummaged by the Cherry and Whites, but despite that the result was never in question.
There is a relentlessness in their efficiency at the moment and if they are under pressure in a match, as they were against the Ospreys two weeks ago, they don’t panic. They just step up their efforts and burn off their opponents.
There is a professionalism in the way they go about their business that clearly intimidates their opposition.
When an untried youngster is introduced into the side they are comforted by the self-belief that oozes from the team.
Last Saturday, 21-year-old Jamie Osborne played his first European match, replacing the injured Robbie Henshaw in the centre, and within 20 minutes he carved his way through the Gloucester ranks and scored by the posts without a finger being laid on him.
He played like a veteran and went on to earn the man of the match award.
Victory at Gloucester ensured Cullen’s side’s qualification for the knock-out stages with one match still to go.
They lead Pool A, and victory next weekend at the Aviva against Racing 92 will guarantee them a home quarter-final.
It is likely that Johnny Sexton and Tadhg Furlong may be rested again, with the Six Nations just around the corner.
While Michael Ala’alatoa has been performing manfully as Furlong’s replacement at tight head prop, the Wexfordman’s strength and experience will be needed when the knock-out stages begin.
The weakness in their scrummaging has been the only chink in their armour in recent weeks.
Teams such as La Rochelle and Saracens will target that area and potentially exploit that superiority more effectively than Leinster’s opponents to date.
Racing are still hopeful of qualifying for the latter stages of the competition and their victory over a strong Harlequins side at the weekend means they will be striving for any points they can muster this weekend.
Leinster will want to finish on top of their qualifying pool and victory in Dublin on Saturday will guarantee that.
They are so entertaining to watch at the moment and it will be no surprise if there is a near capacity crowd at the Aviva to cheer them on.
Munster bravely fought off the challenge of Northampton Saints last weekend despite playing with only 14 men for 60 minutes, after losing flanker Jack O’Donoughue for a dangerous tackle which earned him a red card.
Gavin Coombes scored twice and Jack O’Donoghue crossed as Munster opened up a 24-0 lead, only for Saints to score 23 second-half points to reduce the deficit to four.
Munster’s only points in the second half came via a Jack Crowley penalty, which proved crucial in the final shake-up.
On Sunday, they face the daunting task of visiting French giants Toulouse.
Currently lying sixth in Pool B, Munster will need every point they can glean from this match in order to qualify for the knock-out stages of the competition.
Ulster put up a staunch effort away to holders La Rochelle in France, in horrendous weather conditions last Saturday, before eventually losing narrowly by 7-3.
They kept their tenuous hopes of qualifying alive by gaining a losing bonus point. They now face Sale at the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday evening.
The Englishmen are one place above Ulster in Pool B, ninth ahead of Ulster’s tenth position.
A repeat of their performance last weekend could provide them with revenge over a team that beat them heavily last month.
Connacht had a facile 61-5 victory over French opponents Brive last Saturday in the Challenge Cup.
They visit Premiership side Newcastle this week and victory will guarantee them a home game in the quarter-finals.