‘It’s devastating, but we’ll be back’ – Leo Cullen promises that Leinster will return stronger from final collapse
Leo Cullen promised Leinster fans that his side will bounce back from their ‘devastating’ defeat to La Rochelle in this evening’s Heineken Champions Cup final.
The province’s quest for a fifth title goes on for another year at least as they raced into a 17-0 lead after 12 minutes but let it slip, with George-Henri Colombe scoring a try with eight minutes to go which was converted by Antoine Hastoy to win it.
So, Leinster are condemned to another summer of introspection after a heartbreaking final and their coach believes they were the masters of their own downfall with a number of second-half errors contributing to the defeat.
"A great occasion, it was amazing out there in terms of the atmosphere and everything else,” he said.
"The dressing-room now is pretty gutted as you can imagine because it means so much for the players and everyone who worked so hard to get to this point.
"It was so, so close wasn't it? Unbelievably close, you start the game really well with lots of really positive things in the first-half but the flip-side of that is the second-half - even though we come up with some good turnovers at our end of the field, we didn't exit that well.
"It just means we're feeding La Rochelle possession and territory, it's tight margins.
"They managed to get over the try-line at the end of the game this time last year and we're in that situation this year and we can't get over the line.
"So, that's how close it is.
"It's come down to the closest of margins in the end, unfortunately on both sides we haven't been good enough to do it.
"For our guys, we have to stay at it and keep believing that they'll get there.
"For now, that's it. This season is done, our group changes now so that's the way it happens at the end of every season; so we've some players who will move on. "We'll celebrate their time in the next little while, then we'll go again.
"Unbelievably tight game, tightest of margins. There's things that guys will look back on with regret, similar to last year. Unfortunately it's just not to be today.
"The big thing is not to lose heart, we were up against a very good team."
Cullen was speaking before news of a half-time altercation surfaced in the aftermath and also before La Rochelle captain Gregory Alldritt accused James Ryan of disrespecting him during the coin toss.
Instead, his press conference focused on the peformance and what went wrong as he drew the parallel with his side’s 2012 comeback against Northampton.
"It's more that sustained pressure, you go back to some of those exits; they weren't quite on our terms,” Cullen said.
"It didn't quite go for us unfortunately, you've got to give them credit for the way they stuck at it after the start they had; the character they showed to come back.
"It's devastating really, isn't it?
"We went through that final when we came back from 16 points down against Northampton, so we know what that feeling of jubilation is like.
"Now, we're experiencing the other side of it where the players have built a big lead - 23-7 in the first-half, they get in for a try before half-time, a couple of things there and there were a couple of bits like that during the game - that's what you're going to get.
"It's the top end of the game, you're up against a good team with top individual players. It's a different model.
"The Top 14 teams, in terms of where they pull players from all around the globe, we've a bunch of players coming through the system here for the most part and we've just got to stay at it and believe in what they do. Work hard every day, keep pushing themselves on. "They'll be back."