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Leo Cullen pins Leinster defeat on failing to hold Clermont early on

Coach believes Dan Leavy’s disallowed try was one of those 50-50 calls

Leinster’s Dan Leavy scores a try which was later disallowed by the TMO in the Champions Cup semi-final at Stade de Gerland in Lyon. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Leo Cullen had no complaints about the pivotal, over-ruled try by Dan Leavy for an earlier indiscretion by the same player and conceded that the concession of a 15-0 lead was decisive in their 27-22 semi-final defeat to Clermont in Lyon.

“Probably the start, realistically,” he said when asked where the match had got away from his team.

“We were a little bit inaccurate at the start. We gave Clermont a 15-point lead. I thought they were pretty good taking the chances they had in the first half. We just couldn’t control the ball well enough.

“We talked at half-time about getting back to 15-3, 12 points, we’d a lot of confidence in the group that we could fight back and that is exactly what the players did, so I am very, very proud of the effort.”

Regarding that disallowed 57th-minute try by Leavy – which would have given Leinster the lead – Cullen admitted it was probably the right call by Nigel Owens and his TMO Jonathan Mason of Wales.

“He [Leavy] probably tries to stick Rougerie but holds on too long. It’s one of those 50-50 calls. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way but that across the game there is tons of those calls so. It was a big turning point, 10 points, but even after that the players fought back well, created some more good opportunities, getting very, very close.

“We just couldn’t quite get our noses in front. If we do get our noses in front the game takes on a very different complexion with Clermont chasing the game and us adapting our game slightly.

“You can’t fault the effort of the players. There is a lot of things in our control we could do better but overall we are very proud of the effort put in. Gutted to be out of the tournament but we’ll look back at the game and there is a number of things we can certainly do better and we have some big games coming up.

“It’s important we learn the lessons of how we manage the game because we have two games left in the Pro12 and then we will hopefully be involved in a semi-final and final after that.”

Reflecting further on Leinster’s poor start, Cullen said: “We watched a ton of Clermont games and they do come out very strong at the start with the crowd, the atmosphere and everything else that is here.

“We do expect that but there are certain things, why did they get a roll on us? Because we didn’t manage possession, at set-piece or forcing a couple of things early in the game. But Clermont are a very good team and they did well in terms, of taking those chances in the first 15 minutes.”

The bitterly disappointed Leinster captain Isa Nacewa said: “We came in at half-time and took a deep breath and knew we hadn’t played and could get back in the game.

“There was 100 per cent belief in the group that we could do that. I have got to be proud of the guys for the way we came back in that second half. But you just can’t give Clermont a lead like that in the first 40. We have got to take learnings. It hurts, it really does.”