Leinster’s muscle memory sees them past Racing

“We had to go through some pain watching it. It was tough, but credit for the players”

When you know how to win, you know how to win, and - as is so often the case in finals - Leinster found a way. In the process they became only the second team in the competition’s 23-year history to register nine wins out of nine, emulating Saracens two seasons ago. Champions of Europe and deservedly so.

Leo Cullen, who also became the first man to win the trophy as both a player and a coach, admitted: "There were a lot of examples in the first half of us running into heavy traffic. We just didn't get a flow into the game. It was frustrating at times; we just couldn't quite execute at times. We just couldn't quite get our noses in front, Racing always had a bit of an edge. They were always on the right side of the three points.

“But credit to the players. It was phenomenal the way they eked it out, and pushed and pushed and pushed. It wasn’t pretty at times, it was tough those last 20 minutes, torturous in many ways, but it’s great to see them up collecting the trophy.

“We spoke of 2012 being such a long time ago, so it was an incredible feeling at the end. Maybe the fact that we won it a little ugly like that makes it even better, after the quarter-final and semi-final which were very good performances from the team. We had to go through some pain watching it. It was tough, but credit for the players.”


Cullen admitted his emotions were of "relief" as much as anything, and nodding toward Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton alongside him, adding: "Probably the guys here - obsess is probably the word about this tournament - but to get to this stage again, I'm very lucky.

“A lot of work goes in to producing for the most part homegrown players. We are very lucky to have the clubs and the schools which we rely very heavily on. That’s where we get them. I’m just pleased because I can see the work that goes on. We have a love affair with this tournament. Credit to the players, they’re the ones that pull out the performances on the day, and these two very dedicated leaders, I’m very, very pleased for them.”

At the start of last season Cullen was man enough to bring Stuart Lancaster onto the coaching ticket following a difficult first year at the helm, and Sexton spoke of his role in the hiring of the former England head coach.

"Yeah, well, look I obviously spoke to Leo first. I didn't randomly find his (Lancaster's) number. But if you know rugby, and you look at England, he did an unbelievable job with that team. They won four out of five matches in four Six Nations and won nothing. We did that and got two championships out of it, then the bounce of the ball against Wales went against them (in the World Cup). There are such small margins.

“I think I always found when we played against England with him as coach, we struggled at times, and he played a big part in that.”

As for his own feelings, Sexton said: “It hasn’t sunk in yet, to be honest. If you told me at the start of the year we’d go unbeaten to win a Grand Slam and a European Champions Cup I’d have taken it! I’m so happy. We’ve got another big game next week, and hopefully we can get to the (Pro14) final, and then on to Australia, and make one more push to make it a dream season.”

Sexton and Nacewa, like Cian Healy and Devin Toner, were winning their fourth final, thereby joining Cedric Heymans and Freddy Michalak in doing so, and this one has been achieved after an infusion of outstanding young players such as James Ryan and Dan Leavy.

But Sexton made the point that “we’re very lucky as players with the coaches who we work with at international level and provincial level. When these guys come through they have to be coached really well and learn pretty quickly. We learned some harsh truths last year, and the influence of Dan Leavy and James Ryan has been huge. Robbie (Henshaw) and Garry (Ringrose) were also out for periods, but we got guys fit at the right time. You have to be lucky to win European Cups.

“Yeah, these young guys are very hungry individuals, thankfully, and it’s also very important the older guys stay hungry. I remember Brian O’Driscoll talking to us at the end of his career to really force those younger guys along. We’ve lost a couple of them, in Isa and Richardt leaving, and Jamie as well, so we’re going to have to get guys like Seanie back and really drive things on next year.

“We’re in a great position as a group. Winning it wasn’t the way we wanted to win it. If you think of Bilbao you think of sunshine and training in Ireland you can’t mimic heat in the lashing rain. But actually it was cold, and (we) did it the way we didn’t expect and that’s very pleasing as well.”

Sexton also explained why he passed the kicking duties over to Nacewa for the final two penalties which won this final for Leinster.

“It was for Isa obviously to finish the game off with the last couple of penalties. I just slipped during the game and tweaked my groin a little bit. There was no point in it risking it, especially with such a good kicker as Isa there.”

Nacewa played down his role by saying: "Kicking is kicking; it's only a little game within a game, a mind game too. Me and Johnny talk often about taking kicks. You just have to channel your focus and do it. We have a great kicking coach in Emmet Farrell. "

Nacewa described it as “a special day, a special day for the province, for the club. A lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes, with all the backroom staff and the squad, people who don’t get credit for the hard work that goes on. A lot went in to this campaign that just proably goes unnoticed. It’s just a magical day for the club. We talked about taking a massive step after Scarlets, and to do it on this stage in a different way to win is pretty special. The core of the guys will be pressing on for more after this. We will be in good shape after this.”