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Failure to execute against Toulouse will haunt Leinster more than turning down kicks at goal

Jamie Osborne and Joe McCarthy are young players who can only gain from the experience

Hindsight is an exact science, where being in possession of outcomes, both in terms of the result and pivotal moments within a match, informs the postgame analysis. It’s largely unsympathetic to the real-time decision-making process when things go awry, that double jeopardy conundrum, inspired or imprudent. Roll up, roll up and spin the wheel of fortune.

The trace elements of Leinster’s 31-22 defeat to Toulouse in the Champions Cup final at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium were laid bare in the aftermath. They turned down about half a dozen kicks at goal during the 80 minutes in mining for seven-point, crocks of gold in a match that finished 15-15 before the extra-time finale.

Old school values preach the virtue of “taking your points”, modern mores endorse backing your gut or perhaps it’s fairer to say skill sets. Doubling down is exciting but risky. When the question is posed the “right” answer is revealed in the outcome alone for the side that loses the match. It is a stand-alone criticism that ignores context.

If Leinster had kicked one or more penalties it might have forced Toulouse to change the way they played for “good or bad”, but that’s a long and heavily knotted piece of string to unravel and based solely on conjecture.


What’s more relatable in understanding why and where Leo Cullen’s side lost the game is to look at the handling errors in the first half an hour that will form part of the autopsy, highlighting try-scoring opportunities. This had nothing to do with attack shape.

Leinster backs’ coach Andrew Goodman, who moves on to take up his new job with Ireland, devised some lovely “trap plays” that opened up Toulouse – Robbie Henshaw twice and James Lowe examples of such – but players failed to execute, snatching nervously or losing track of the precise location of a team-mate looping around to take an intended pass.

Handling loose. Passing loose. Offloads loose. Pilot rather than system error. There was considerable improvement in all three as the match progressed but crucially largely without the same opportunities to score tries. It’s a matter for debate but there were 14-plus points there for Leinster if they had executed with typical dexterity in those first 30 minutes. They weren’t able to control the controllables.

While the pain of a third successive Champions Cup final defeat will ache in the immediate days and weeks for players and coaches, when the scarring will be revealed, it should not obscure that fact that Leinster took a brilliant Toulouse team to the brink.

Little nuggets will emerge from the performance that won’t provide a salve in the short term but a decent augury that Leinster can some day in the near future summit again in Europe.

Andrew Porter’s astonishing engine, Ryan Baird’s work rate and athleticism, so too that of Dan Sheehan, Caelan Doris, Robbie Henshaw and Jamison Gibson-Park. Jordan Larmour’s aerial excellence, James Ryan, Ciarán Frawley, and Josh van der Flier’s impact off the bench, but especially the contributions of young players Jamie Osborne and Joe McCarthy; all noteworthy but particularly those with a light resume in big finals.

The 22-year-old Osborne started the game nervously conceding a couple of penalties for not rolling away and not releasing, both at breakdowns. He also misplaced a pass to Ross Byrne on penalty advantage when a try looked likely. Defensively he made some impulse calls; most, but not all, worked.

Every player makes mistakes, the key is whether they become introverted, shy away from responsibility or have the mental resilience to shrug it off and stay on top of their duties. Osborne got better as the game went on, showing strength, footwork and working hard in attack and defence.

There is little doubt that he would like his time again following Dan Sheehan’s brilliant break, either stepping on the accelerator a little harder earlier to offer a passing opportunity or clearing out the marvellous Antoine Dupont with a velocity that would have knocked him back across the channel at the ensuing ruck.

What Osborne reinforced is that he’s a talented young player who possesses the capacity to play across the backline with the character and resolve to roll with the blows and keep playing. He has already shown an aptitude to learn and improve in a fledgling career.

Joe McCarthy was immense, the 23-year-old more than a match for Toulouse’s big bruisers who like to mete out corporeal punishment. His element is the rough and tumble of contact, but he is also light on his feet with the ability to go around as well as through players. Even better, he recognised the opportunity to do so.

He turned in an exceptional physical performance, might have had a try but for a questionable officiating decision and the only blot was a single penalty which when considering there were 31 in the match, was a bit of a crapshoot to avoid.

The review will be painful and brief with the URC looking large at the weekend, but Leinster, coaches, players and supporters, will come to appreciate the lessons, good and bad, and for McCarthy and Osborne they will be better for the experience.