Monday 26 September 2016

Matt O'Connor reveals his pride in Leinster players despite defeat

Blues coach happy with his team's effort in Toulon defeat

Published 19/04/2015 | 20:14

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor

Despite a heartbreaking Champions Cup semi-final defeat, Matt O'Connor was overcome with pride in his players after 100 minutes of rugby in Marseille today.

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Leinster and Toulon went toe-to-toe all the way before a mis-placed pass from Ian Madigan led to a breakaway try for Bryan Habana in the first period of extra time, a score that would ultimately seal victory for the reigning champions.

“The overriding emotion is probably pride, really. The effort the lads put in across the course of it was fantastic and it's incredibly disappointing to come second," said O'Connor.

“We were probably inaccurate at key moments in the second half. I thought we dominated for large periods, put them under pressure and made that tell on the scoreboard. We led for large parts of it and were probably the better side for large parts of it but we came second in extra time and that determined the result.”

Read more: Heartache for Leinster as they suffer extra-time defeat against Toulon

O'Connor admitted that his side did not do enough when they had an extra man for 10 minutes during the period Habana scored the match-winning try.

“Yeah, you know, you look at it and that's the obvious answer but it doesn't matter how many blokes they've got on the field, Habana takes the intercept and that was the turning point.

“We had knock-on advantage, there was the opportunity for us to play but Habana's world class and he's made a living out of that.”

Dejected Leinster players Marty Moore, Richardt Strauss and Dominic Ryan after their defeat. European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final, RC Toulon v Leinster. Stade V?lodrome, Marseilles, France. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Dejected Leinster players Marty Moore, Richardt Strauss and Dominic Ryan after their defeat. European Rugby Champions Cup Semi-Final, RC Toulon v Leinster. Stade V?lodrome, Marseilles, France. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

On Madigan's rash decision, O'Connor maintains that matches are won and lost on the tightest of margins and had it come off, we could now be talking about an Ian Madigan match-winning pass.

“Yeah, I've only seen it the once as well. It's potentially a 14-point play. If we play outside Habana and score at the other end we win the game and Ian's an absolute hero. That's the nature of the game and the margins are tiny at this level. There were probably seven or eight decisions from us, from the officials, that had the potential to change the game. It's always going to be that tight at this level.”

O'Connor's focus now switches back to the Pro12 and a match against Ulster in Dublin next week.

"We’ll go back to Dublin and re-group, see how the bodies are," added O'Connor.

"We’ve got to get three wins in the league to get ourselves any chance and hope other results go our way. From that perspective, we’ll regroup and dust ourselves off and have a look at the challenge of the next three games."

Following last year's quarter-final defeat and now today's loss at the semi-final stage, 'Connor would bite your hand off to go that extra step in next year's competition.

Read more: Toulon 25 Leinster 20: As it happened

"Yes, I would; that would be brilliant."

Have Leinster the squad to go that extra step?

"There’s going to be growth in the group from an experience perspective against a very good side and go so close, you learn lessons from that, you’ll build confidence going into the European Cup next year so from that end there’ll be growth.

"There’s blokes coming into the environment, we’ve a World Cup to manage our way through. We’ll be better for it, but it’s too early to say."

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