Wednesday 20 March 2019

Bryan Habana: We thought it was going to be a walkover against Leinster

Toulon's winger Bryan Habana celebrates after scoring a try during the European Champions Cup rugby union semi final match between Toulon and Leinster
Toulon's winger Bryan Habana celebrates after scoring a try during the European Champions Cup rugby union semi final match between Toulon and Leinster

Andrew Baldock

Bryan Habana believes that some hard work lies ahead if Toulon are to threaten being crowned champions of Europe for an unprecedented third successive season.

The South Africa wing scored an interception try midway through extra-time that gave Toulon an edge in a tense semi-final against Leinster at Stade Velodrome as they prevailed 25-20.

Toulon full-back Leigh Halfpenny booted six penalties and a conversion of Habana's try to book a Twickenham final appointment with fellow French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne on May 2.

But Habana said: "If we want to be contenders to win the European title, we will have to go back to the drawing board.

"As a team, we are going to have to look really hard at ourselves after that performance.

"Our discipline needs to be better and we can't afford to make as many errors.

"Mentally, I think we turned up and thought it was going to be a walkover, but the game ended up being on a knife-edge.

"We have the chance to make it a special end to the season for players like Carl Hayman, Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha, who are retiring.

"We've got 80 minutes - or maybe 100 - to try to put them into the history books as legends with a third successive European win."

Leinster gave as good as they got for most of the contest, with centre Ian Madigan kicking five penalties and flanker Sean O'Brien scoring a late try, but it was Madigan's pass that Habana intercepted to see Toulon home.

Wales star Halfpenny said: "As a professional rugby player, something like this is what you grow up dreaming of.

"You work hard day in, day out to be involved in the big matches, and the success and ambition of Toulon, I felt that I wanted to be a part of that.

"I was fortunate to be given the opportunity and it was a challenge I felt that I needed. To be rubbing shoulders with these guys, I can only feel it is helping my game."

For Leinster, it was a case of what might have been as their hopes of reaching a fourth European final in seven seasons fell agonisingly short.

"The overwhelming emotion is one of pride," Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor said. "The effort the lads put in was fantastic and we are obviously incredibly disappointed to come second.

"Habana's intercept was the turning point - he is world-class - but the positive for us was the effort. It was second to none.

"A lot of people had written us off coming into this game, but we will back ourselves to go anywhere and beat anybody."

And Leinster skipper Jamie Heaslip added: "It felt like a boxing match out there. There was nothing between the sides.

"We probably left opportunities out there in the first 40 minutes and they had a purple patch in the first 20 minutes of the second-half, but we stood our ground.

"We always have an inner belief that if each player does their job, we are a good team and we can create situations to get some points."

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