We probably had the Ulster defeat coming
Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30
Three weeks is a long time in sport. That's how long it's been since I wrote my last column. Back then it was all in our own hands and we believed that we could achieve our goals.
Leinster were still in Europe with an admittedly daunting trip to Marseille to come and we had a very good chance of making the top four in the Guinness Pro12. Now, we're out of both competitions and all the work we've put in to the season will result in no silverware at all.
When you read it like that it is hard to take. But the reality is that over the course of a season, in particular in the league, the better and most consistent teams will make it into the top four places.
Europe though was different. We had consistency of performance here and had managed a tricky group, when we were down a serious amount of players through injury, to came first. That gained us a home quarter-final for the first time since April 2012. Beating Bath in the Aviva was job done and then another trip to take on Toulon.
Looking back on it, we were a bit unlucky against Toulon - we took it to them for 100 minutes and, but for the lack of luck, we could be playing Clermont this weekend. While the result went against us, at least we were able to draw some positives from the performance which was one of our best of the season.
The final will be very interesting for the neutral and I fancy Clermont to finally break their duck and claim a European title. They will certainly have a great resource in Jono Gibbes, who will become only the third man to win four European titles, should Clermont succeed. It is a remarkable achievement to do so with two clubs as well, two different cultures, squads, mentalities. You look at their stats at the breakdown and his impact is clear. I wish him well.
Unfortunately we had to play a pumped up Ulster just five days after Toulon and after getting off to a great start they eventually reeled us in and pulled away in the last 20 minutes.
Having played a 100-minute game the week before and the intensity that went with it, we were always going to tire mentally and physically going into the last 10 or 20. It was important for us to be ahead, instead it was Ulster who were ahead and we'd already had two lads in the sin-bin.
You must give huge credit to Ulster though as they played better on the night and deserved what they got. The other thing to remember is that while the loss cost us a chance at the top four, we didn't lose out just last Friday. It shouldn't have boiled down to needing a win five days after Toulon.
What about Ulster? Well, Iain Henderson was kind enough to give me a free tummy tuck in the first 10 minutes, making a fair old effort to staple my belly button to my spine!
While you never like to lose to anyone we probably had that one coming. We've probably been Ulster's nemesis over the past few seasons, knocking them out at semi-final stage and beating them in a couple of finals, and they certainly were happy to try and balance things out. As things stand they're looking good for a home semi-final, and of course the final is at the Kingspan Stadium this year, so they've a clear run at the title if they get the results they need over the next two games.
It's a bit odd for Leinster to be in this position, because for the last five seasons we've been involved in the business end of one competition or another, including five straight Pro12 finals. I suppose the run had to come to an end at some stage, but it's certainly something we're incredibly disappointed about and will be desperately keen to put right next season.
For whatever reason we just weren't consistent enough over the course of this season, and it's reflected in our current standing. Injuries are a factor, no doubt. Continuity just can't develop when you are chopping and changing.
The international windows have been mentioned in places and there is no doubt that picking up 18 and 19 points out of 20 in the last two seasons was a huge factor in the end of season jostling for places. This season to only pick up eight wasn't good enough.
But that's not to lay it all on injuries or on those games. There were plenty of other times when we just didn't perform and that has to be about us all looking at each other and figuring it out.
We definitely have the personnel and coaching staff to bounce back. We also have the return of a few lads next year plus a few signings. But with meritocracy and qualification for the Champions Cup relying on Pro12 form, it is more competitive than ever and you cannot afford any slip-ups, every single point is vital.
We still do have something to play for though, and that's a spot in the Champions Cup next season. Only the top six will make it through to the pool stages, and we've Edinburgh and Scarlets nipping at our heels. This week will be all about recovery and then build up for the last two weeks of the season, with two massive games at home to Treviso and then away to Edinburgh.
As things stand, we're four points ahead of Scarlets, and five ahead of Edinburgh, so we'll need a minimum of six points from our final two games to guarantee ourselves a spot in Europe. There may not be a trophy on offer for this season, but a large chunk of next season depends on what we do now and you can be sure that we'll be going all out to make sure we're in the best possible shape for that.