Disconsolate Leinster will pick themselves up after pummelling by Saracens
Leinster made bad half-time decision, but opponents were relentless for 80 minutes
Luke McGrath of Leinster clears the ball upfield during their Champions Cup final match against Saracens at St James’ Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on Saturday. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Leinster’s crestfallen players trooped disconsolately from the dressing-room to the awaiting team bus, a crowd of 100 or so supporters remaining to cheer them aboard. Most had their heads bowed, but several stopped in the mixed zone to express their feelings in the fallout of their first defeat in five finals – and probably the most disappointing one they’ve suffered in the Champions Cup.
For the ever-polite Luke McGrath, inevitably, the inquisition started with the decision to keep on playing at the end of the first-half when 10-3 ahead after the 40 minutes were up, and specifically his box-kick.
“Yeah, hindsight’s a nice thing,” he said with a hint of irony in echoing the post-match comments of Johnny Sexton. “You’d probably just stop the game there and go in at half-time but we thought we’d go up in the air, challenge and maybe get a penalty and go in 13-3 possibly.
We had to attack Saracens because if you sit back and let them attack you they’ll score a lot of points
“But to give away a penalty at that ruck was fairly crucial and then their score at half-time was tough to take; especially when we had a good bit of the momentum in the first half. They’re a class outfit and they took their chance,” said the scrumhalf, who had put in a big 80-minute shift featuring some accurate box-kicking and his usual quota of superb tackles.
As it transpired, Leinster were never going to win the game with 10 points, and the champions’ natural inclination is to keep attacking.
“Exactly. I think Tadhg [Furlong] said at the start of the season that we have to attack the tournament and that’s the mindset we had – we had to attack Saracens because if you sit back and let them attack you they’ll score a lot of points. They showed their class out there. It’s a fairly gutted changing-room at the moment, but it’s important we have to regroup now because we’ve a massive game next week,” said McGrath in reference to their Pro14 semi-final against Munster at the RDS.
“Small margins, isn’t it?” reflected Furlong himself. “It was still level at half-time and they pushed on and we probably got opportunities. I know I knocked one on or it got knocked out of my hands close to the line. They’re clinical, aren’t they? It’s just those small margins. They probably converted their moments of pressure and we probably didn’t.”
Somehow he was able to turn his attentions to next week’s rendezvous at the RDS.
“It’s the rivalry, and we’re playing them in the RDS, which doesn’t happen too often. So it’s a special occasion for players.”
Jack Conan repeated many of these views, admitting: “Credit to Saracens, they were fantastic today. They’re brutal for 80 minutes, they kept on going, kept on pushing us. I suppose we probably just didn’t show up at times, didn’t play the Leinster rugby that got us to the final, which is disappointing.
“The lads are feeling it. There’s a lot of battered, bruised bodies in there at the moment. It’s at the end of the season, we have another two massive weeks, hopefully. Munster in the RDS on Saturday, so rugby can be pretty cruel at times. We’ll turn the page as quickly as we can, regroup, stick together. We’ll learn from this mistake and hopefully be better next weekend.”
He explained what he meant by not playing Leinster rugby: “Probably our attack, we kind of pride ourselves on our varied attack that’s unpredictable. We dominate the gain-line, I don’t think we got the right balance of it today. I think we were a bit too predictable at times. They had some big physical units out there and they won a lot of the collisions so it was kind of hard to play.”
Conan was unstinting in praising the performances of Cian Healy and James Ryan, saying of the latter: “Like, the kid is 22, he leads from the front through his tackle count, through his carries. He’s a complete freak. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with.
It’s the perfect game next week to have. Munster will be frothing at the mouth waiting for us
“He’s extremely humble, a nice bloke, he always wants to be better and wants to keep on working and give everything for the team. I think that shows day in, day out. He’s top quality, and one of the best in the world, no doubt about it. And yeah, as always he was phenomenal today. He led from the front; he carried; himself and Dev [Toner] ran the lineout really well; he made some big shots, he was everywhere. He’s an absolute freak.”
Rob Kearney repeated the mantra about “fine margins”, and, looking ahead to meeting Munster next week, said: “It’s the perfect game next week to have. Munster will be frothing at the mouth waiting for us. This is the challenge of professional sport, we’ll have to suck it up and get back on the horse pretty quickly.”