Sunday 16 June 2019

Leinster lament failure to make moments count

Leinster 10 Saracens 20

Garry Ringrose is consoled by Barrett and Alex Lozowski after Saturday’s final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Garry Ringrose is consoled by Barrett and Alex Lozowski after Saturday’s final. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

If you are going to beat Saracens, you need to make every moment count. Leinster didn't and they paid the price.

Perhaps the machine would have gotten them in the end; there are only so many dominant collisions a team can take over 80 minutes after all.

But, for all that the English champions are a phenomenal team who merited their win and their place as one of the all-time great European teams, there were stages when the Irish province had them in trouble, but they couldn't make it pay.

Ten points up and playing against 14 men, a loose Luke McGrath pass set Jack Conan up to be smashed back by Alex Lozowski; George Kruis followed up by hammering Johnny Sexton, and when the Ireland out-half held on, Owen Farrell got his side on the board.

Before half-time, McGrath had a chance to get the ball off the pitch but opted to keep playing and put up a box-kick. Rob Kearney couldn't win it back and ended up on the wrong side of the ruck. Within a couple of minutes Farrell was converting Sean Maitland's try and Leinster's lead was gone.

Even still, Saracens came out after half-time and conceded successive penalties that gave Leinster the field position to attack them again, but the Blues couldn't make their territory pay.

Robbie Henshaw gets an armful as he tackles Owen Farrell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw gets an armful as he tackles Owen Farrell. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Tadhg Furlong was stripped in contact, while Garry Ringrose is likely to spend much of the summer re-living the moment he tucked and ran with a four-on-one outside him after some gorgeous inter-play from Sexton and James Lowe.

Later, Liam Williams turned Ringrose over with a big play; there was a split-second when he might have kept the ball alive but went to deck.

It is easy, after the event, to pick these holes in the performance, but Leinster have to be ruthless in their analysis if they are to close the gap.

"Small margins, isn't it?" Furlong said with a shrug in the aftermath.

Brad Barritt lifts the trophy for Saracens. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Brad Barritt lifts the trophy for Saracens. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

"It was still level at half-time and they pushed on and we probably had opportunities, I know I knocked one on or it got knocked out of my hands close to the line.

"They're clinical, aren't they? It's just those small margins. They probably converted their moments of pressure and we probably didn't.

"I thought we fronted up and everyone worked hard, you can't blame the effort or anything like that.

"There was very little between the teams and that's what it is at the highest level, isn't it?"

Sometimes it's as simple as that. One by one the Leinster players came forward and spoke about their frustration.

Most of them will reflect on those moments that, had they taken a different decision, everything might have gone differently.

"It's hard to look back on it now, but maybe just after half-time we got into their 22 at least twice, maybe three times and coughed up the ball pretty cheaply," McGrath said.

"But credit to Saracens, when they get into our 22 they took their points, that was probably the winning of it in the end."

Earlier, Sexton had backed his half-back partner for his decision to keep playing into injury-time.

"Hindsight's a nice thing," the out-half said.

"You'd probably just stop the game there and go in at half-time but we probably thought we'd go up in the air, challenge and maybe get a penalty out of the game and go in 13-3 possibly.

"But to give away a penalty at that ruck was fairly crucial and then their score at half-time was tough to take, especially when we had a good bit of the momentum in the first half.

"They're a class outfit and they took their chance.

"Tadhg said at the start of the season that we have to attack the tournament and that's the mindset we had - we had to attack Saracens because if you sit back and let them attack you they'll score a lot of points.

"They showed their class out there.

"It's a fairly gutted changing-room at the moment, but it's important we have to regroup now because we've a massive game next week."

That game sees Munster come to the RDS for the PRO14 semi-final and represents both provinces' last shot at silverware this season.

"That's professional rugby and we're back on the horse next week at the RDS against Munster, which is no small little fixture," Furlong said with a shrug.

"It's nice for us to dust ourselves down and get back on the horse."

SARACENS - A Goode; S Maitland, A Lozowski, B Barritt, L Williams; O Farrell, B Spencer (R Wigglesworth 56); M Vunipola (R Barrington 30), J George, T Lamositele (V Koch 30); W Skelton, G Kruis; M Itoje, J Wray, B Vunipola (S Burger 74).

LEINSTER - R Kearney; J Larmour, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy (J McGrath 62), S Cronin (J Tracy 51), T Furlong (M Bent 70); D Toner (M Deegan 74), J Ryan; S Fardy, S O'Brien (R Ruddock 63), J Conan.

Ref - J Garces (France)

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