Leinster must find finishing touches after Lyon grind
Lyon 6 Leinster 13
Leo Cullen promised Saturday's trip to Lyon would be a test of his players' manhood and they passed that with a physical, committed performance on a miserable afternoon in France's second city.
He had no qualms about their guts, but wants them to apply their brains to save on stress and exert the maximum return from these games.
If Leinster are to get back to the top, they'll need to make better decisions under pressure.
Back in May, they paid the price for Garry Ringrose's decision to tuck and run rather than release the players outside him against Saracens. On Saturday, Robbie Henshaw and James Ryan repeated the same mistake.
During the first half, the Athlone centre chose to ignore James Lowe coming like a train on to his shoulder with support outside him and the chance passed.
Midway through the second 40 minutes, the Ireland second row was handed turnover ball and raced into space. He had three backs outside him and one defender in front of him and chose to step inside, take contact and off-load. Toby Arnold got a hand in on his arm and forced a knock-on.
Later, they brilliantly worked their way in behind the Lyon defence but Lowe threw an offload that didn't go to hand.
It wasn't to matter at the Matmut Stadium where the four-time European champions had enough in the tank to overcome a Lyon side who won't have to wait long for their first Champions Cup win.
They have no pedigree, but with a smart coach, a strong squad, good backing and an impressive stadium they look like becoming a force.
They threw everything at Leinster, but their accuracy and discipline let them down at key moments. And, while the Irish province didn't take their other chances, they struck when they needed to through Max Deegan and man of the match Johnny Sexton led them home.
On Saturday week they face the first of their back-to-backs against Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens and Cullen is hoping his Ireland stars will be properly integrated by then.
"We make some good breaks but we're not quite nailing that for whatever reason," Cullen said of his team's missed chances. "At this moment in time it's probably just the cohesion of the group, we're probably not in sync with each other.
"We can see that in training, so that's just repping away. Guys coming into training and spending the time.
"We'll juggle the resources of the group, but when we're all training we need to make sure we're all on the same page, we're trying to build the connections of the team all the time.
"There's little bits where we're not quite in sync as we'd want to be."
They didn't have a whole lot of ball to work with on a wet, cold afternoon in the west of France and that made the missed chance all the more galling.
Ronan Kelleher made the step up well, although he'll lament his two missed lineouts, while Max Deegan was very good in the loose but let one key scrum slip between his legs that led to a yellow card for Jordan Larmour. They'll both be better for the experience.
Leinster didn't manage the game particularly well, but they were always in control on the scoreboard with Sexton kicking them in front before Josh van der Flier charged Jonathan Wisniewski down and a couple of phases later Deegan crashed over.
They defended their way through the sin-binning before half-time, saw their lead reduced by Wisniewski and then thought they'd won it through a well-worked Sexton try.
Referee Luke Pearce chalked that off for a Garry Ringrose obstruction, so the Ireland out-half had to be content with a penalty.
Another Wisniewski three-pointer made it a nervous finish, but there was no late drama. Afterwards, Sexton was in tune with his coach.
"It probably wasn't the actual passes, it was probably the lack of passes," Sexton said.
"It's hard though. Sometimes when you have no one in front of you, you feel that you need to get someone there to draw them and often you just need to give it to the guy with speed and let him go.
"Cheese (Ryan), an unbelievable play by him to do what he did. He'd a couple of them during the game. The amount of tackles he made. You can't blame a guy in that position. It's hard for him. He's got no one in front of him and he's trying to draw, to get someone there.
"Sometimes you just have to give it to the guy and let him do his thing. Then there's maybe one pass and we tried a fancy offload and they intercepted.... It can be a much more enjoyable game [if we took our chances] and we can open up a bit more, but it wasn't to be. But we ground out a good win.
"The big games, the margins are so fine and small. They do come down to swings in the games. Go back to the Saracens final. We're 10-3 up at the start of the second half and we've a clear chance to score, two clear chances to score and we don't take them," added Sexton. "If we can get that to 17-3 its a much different game. They get a boost and they get a chance to score and they take theirs so it's honestly those small things.
"It's a great lesson to learn at this stage having won and it's important that we learn lessons now after a victory. Sometimes you can brush over things after wins but I know that the coaches we have will go hard on us."