Gloves are off as Rocky pins Tigers to the ropes

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The Independent Online

A good deal of water has flowed under the Forth Road Bridge since Leinster's Heineken Cup hopes effectively sank last season on a crisp December afternoon here at the home of Scottish rugby. Back then, the great Irish pretenders were rumbled to the tune of 29-10 by Andy Robinson's street-wise Edinburgh. They were described in dispatches as having been "left looking like would-be emperors in need of a trip to the nearest Oxfam shop for something to cover their modesty."

Seventeen months on, the pretenders were back in town in all their new finery, being crowned kings of European rugby.

There had been a glimpse of the new-look Leinster at Murrayfield last October when Michael Cheika's men opened their Heineken campaign of 2008-09 with a pool stage revenge job on Edinburgh. Rocky Elsom led the way that day, plucking the ball from the side of a ruck and haring 25 metres to claim the opening score. It was a similar story yesterday.

It has taken a little more than the Wallaby blindside flanker to transform Leinster but the man with the pugilistic appellation has put one hell of a lot of clout into the former fancy-dan Dubliners. He lived up to his name in spades yesterday, much to the delight of the fan sitting in front of the press box jumping up and down in full Rocky Balboa garb, boxing gloves and all.

The Australian Rocky took the field wearing mitts but flung them aside after failing to hold on to his side's first piece of attacking possession. Leicester had been given fair warning.

It was gloves off thereafter. Seven minutes into the contest, Elsom went on the charge up the left. His path was barred by no less an outhouse than Alesana Tuilagi. It was no contest. Leinster's No 6 sent the Samoan reeling backwards and the ball was fed back from the ruck for Brian O'Driscoll to land the first blow, three points for a drop goal.

Rocky was wreaking absolute havoc, ambushing Leicester ball at the line-out with the aplomb of a Ned Kelly. He was also making serious dents in the Tigers defence, following up a half-break by O'Driscoll to draw the penalty Johnny Sexton dispatched to give the Irish province a 9-3 lead. Cries of "Rocky, Rocky" rang around Murrayfield. It was to become the theme tune of the day.

Down 13-9 at the break and 16-9 soon after, Leinster were not quite up against the ropes. It helped, though, that they had their Rocky living up to his name. Last Monday Elsom was involved in a head-on car crash at Donnybrook but yesterday he was neither shaken nor stirred. Apparently it takes quite a lot to ruffle the feathers of the 26-year-old – such as when his Wallaby team-mates called him Francis because they did not believe he had been christened with a boxer's name.

The native Melburnian has made such an impact in his eight months as an adopted Dubliner that Leinster are fighting a custody battle to stop the Australian Rugby Union from reclaiming him this summer. It was easy to see why, as Elsom fastened on to a Geordan Murphy kick deep in Leinster territory and went on a wrecking-ball run on the flank, gaining some 30 metres up the left and leaving a trail of destroyed Tigers in his wake. Several phases later Jamie Heaslip was over the Leicester whitewash and Leinster were level at 16-16.

Not long afterwards Elsom stopped Dan Hipkiss in his tracks on halfway and got a bloodied nose for his trouble. Still, the scent of victory was in his nostrils and it was sealed by a Sexton penalty.

"It's a pretty good end to a great season," Elsom said before he was drowned out by the chanted adulation from the fans as he took receipt of the man-of-the-match prize. It was quite some performance by the star of the Rocky Hooray Show.

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