Tuesday 20 February 2018

Downbeat Cheika left to rue lost possession

Peter Bills

The thin dividing line that separates winners from losers at this level cost Leinster their dream of successive Heineken Cup final appearances yesterday.

Missed scoring chances, indiscipline, erratic concentration and a couple of flashes of inspiration by Toulouse tore the Heineken Cup trophy from Leinster's proud grasp. Disappointment was writ large upon Leinster faces yesterday evening in south west France.

"Giving the ball away too easily, giving the opposition too much of the ball cost us," admitted Leinster coach, Michael Cheika. "You have to be really accurate at this level, especially when you play this sort of opposition. We weren't clinical enough, we gave them the ball too easily; they didn't have to work for it and that was one of the most disappointing things.

"We fought as hard as we could and maybe once upon a time such an outcome would have been seen as a courageous loss. But we have moved beyond that. We felt maybe we had it in us to go to two finals in a row which is not an easy thing to do. But we felt we had built up a momentum in the team to do that and it is very disappointing to have fallen short.

"What killed us was we didn't manage the 35-40 per cent possession we won. We kicked away too much ball, particularly in the first half, nor did we carry the ball with the necessary security to be able to challenge the defence. So overall, we didn't use the ball well enough."

Cheika hit out at Welsh referee Nigel Owens, claiming it was the second case in recent weeks of Leinster being what he called "targeted" especially at the breakdown by Welsh officials.

"Obviously they had had a look at the video of us around the ruck, for every ruck was a battle. That hurt us a fair bit but you have got to cater for that. Besides, we had enough opportunities in the game but we were not clinical enough and didn't use the ball well enough. In fact, we kept giving it back to them and you can't do that to a side as good as Toulouse."

Brian O'Driscoll re-iterated the view about thin dividing lines, saying: "Today was about a team that took its opportunities and a team that didn't. On another day, we could have taken those and it might have been tighter at the death. It's about very small margins at this level but we came out on the wrong side of too many of them.

"When we conceded those two tries (in the second half) they got their tails up and they are a very good side to beat when they play like that.

"We still have an opportunity to win the Magners League and we will try and re-group. We have to move on now and try to focus our minds on that one."

But perhaps captain Leo Cullen hit the nail hardest on the head. Cullen pointed to his team's indiscipline and bemoaned the penalties they gave away far too often.

"We gave away too many penalties, definitely," he said. "When you get to this stage you can't afford to do that against good teams and good kickers with good percentages. We gave away some pretty soft penalties which was unfortunate because we needed to get our noses in front. But that didn't happen. And then there was our indiscipline. Teams like Toulouse don't need any help in that respect.

"Toulouse put such a stranglehold on the game and played what I would call good Cup rugby. They strangled the game at times and played the game pretty cleverly. I'm disappointed because I don't think we gave a full account of ourselves today. We battled pretty hard against a very good team and it was always going to be a tough ask coming over here.

"But we felt we didn't really show what we are capable of doing and that was very disappointing."

Nor did Cullen try to gloss over the scrum superiority of the French. "They put a lot of pressure on us in that area. The way French teams scrummage, the tight head goes across and they walked us forward a few times. It is tough to counter act that and we didn't really cope with it. It is a powerful weapon a lot of French teams use. But it was definitely a disappointing aspect of our game today because we take pride in our scrums"

French coach Guy Noves called it "an immense win" for his side. "We played well for 30 minutes but then let the game slip away a bit," he said. "But we showed good reactions to come back in the second half and scored two very good tries."

Sunday Independent

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