Saturday 22 July 2017

The Insider: Without doubt, it's the one that got away

Going toe to toe with reigning champions was encouraging - but we believed we would win

Shane Jennings believes Leinster can be proud of the way they played against Toulon
Shane Jennings believes Leinster can be proud of the way they played against Toulon
Shane Jennings with his former team-mate Brian O'Driscoll
Shane Jennings

Shane Jennings

What a weekend and what a game. Where to start?

I don't know where to begin if I'm to be honest. It was an incredible game, maybe not the running-rugby encounter we would have hoped to play in, but it had guts and desire as well as the lads doing themselves and the club proud. Small margins have such a huge influence on games and Sunday's semi-final was no different.

The lads gave everything and yes there were a few mistakes but the weather had a huge influence on the game and I can't stress enough how bad it actually was. It could have been so different.

We arrived off the plane on the Saturday to a warm and humid Marseille and headed straight for the Stade Velodrome. The sun was shining and you were trying to visualise what the place would be like in 24 hours as we went through our Captain's Run. To be honest, it was more of a walk than a run. We knew what we were about and what needed to be done and only the kickers did any meaningful work during our allocated hour.

So as we walked the pitch, we went through some of our various plans and reconfirmed our strategy for the game in the various parts of the pitch and the mood was good and we were ready for battle. The rest of the hour was about players familiarising themselves with the place and, of course, the all-important decision with regard to boots and studs.

It mattered not a bit. Early on Sunday morning the heavens opened. And they stayed open. With that the temperature dropped but you just knew it would impact on both teams.

And it did. Both teams found it difficult to get through any amount of phases and it was a real leveller. The difference really couldn't have been more stark. The previous day we arrived in Marseille and the sun was beating down. Now it may as well have been UCD in January.

From the outside of the playing group you could see that all the squad knew their detail and what they had to do going into the game. The week leading up to the game was the best it has been all year except for a nervy Thursday session but thankfully we got over that quickly and trained well on the Friday. It's hard when you're not involved as you find it hard to gauge if the lads are dialled in or not, but I was confident that we all knew our detail in terms of patterns and moves which we wanted to execute.

The atmosphere was incredible and the Toulon supporters are great as they create a huge amount of noise and make it an enjoyable atmosphere to be involved in. The travelling Leinster supporters were beaten by numbers but stood their ground in getting behind us and we all really appreciate everybody who made the effort to come over to France as well as all our other supporters cheering us on from home.

It really was so close and we certainly feel that it was there for us. The one that got away? Yeah, probably. We can be proud of how we played but we set higher standards for ourselves and ultimately we didn't win a game that was there to be won. But that's rugby and unfortunately we didn't capitalise on the opportunities we got and the rest is history as they say.

As for the final? I certainly hope Clermont can win it for a number of reasons, none more so than for our former forwards coach Jono Gibbes to get another medal as a coach. He has done a great job with them in only his first year in France.

As for us, the beauty of our schedule is that we have an opportunity to play and get this horrible feeling out of our system tonight. It won't get rid of the pain of being knocked out but it will give us the chance to have a reaction to want we've been going through all week.

It's been pretty grim and it's not a nice place to be after a loss such as last Sunday. That being said, we had to draw a line under it and try our best to prepare for tonight's game. Ulster have been going well of late and have shown great consistency over the last number of weeks to maintain their position in the Pro12. We must get the win tonight. It really is that simple!

Irish Independent

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