Tuesday 18 June 2019

'We got a little carried away with ourselves' - Cullen laments lack of second-half calm as Leinster crash back to earth

Toulouse 28 Leinster 27

Seán O’Brien stands dejected after Leinster’s Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse at Stade Ernest Wallon. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Seán O’Brien stands dejected after Leinster’s Champions Cup defeat to Toulouse at Stade Ernest Wallon. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor at the Stade Ernest Wallon

Last week, perspective went out the window where Leinster were concerned. They were electric against Wasps and Lawrence Dallaglio's comments putting them in the same bracket as the All Blacks put the hype machine into over-drive.

Yesterday's performance in Toulouse could cause it to short-circuit, but there is no reason to have any less belief that Leo Cullen's team are the best team in this competition and remain best-placed to retain their title.

It just proved that they are human after all and, like the rest of us, if you make life uncomfortable enough, they'll suffer.

Not many teams can do it, but this new-look Toulouse team went about their business with a ferocity from the off and refused to wilt, even when they went behind for the first time midway through the second-half.

At 14-0 down after 18 minutes, Leinster didn't panic and steadily worked their way back into a winning position.

When Seán Cronin scored a try and Johnny Sexton converted to make it 27-21 with 27 minutes remaining, there only looked one winner.

Seán Cronin beats the tackle of Toulouse’s Charlie Faumuina on the way to scoring Leinster’s third try. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Seán Cronin beats the tackle of Toulouse’s Charlie Faumuina on the way to scoring Leinster’s third try. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

But the home side tore up the script and produced a Sofiane Guitoune scintillating try to win it through Maxime Médard.

"Even at half-time it was reasonably controlled and everyone understood what we needed to do," Cullen said.

"And for the start of that second-half I thought we executed the plan really well. So that period of 15-20 minutes were good, which gets us into the lead - 27-21.

"We probably get a little bit carried away with ourselves. Maybe we don't put enough of a squeeze on them and we don't fully respect possession when we had it.

Leinster's Luke McGrath is tackled by Yoann Huget. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster's Luke McGrath is tackled by Yoann Huget. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"So Toulouse come up with a big intercept and do unbelievably well to finish but a lot of the turnovers we gave them just fuel their strengths really. We talk about the strengths that they have, (Cheslin) Kolbe and (Yoann) Huget when he comes on, etc, etc. There's so much pace out there, so they're incredibly dangerous and that's ultimately what cost us; it was probably some of the turnovers that we gave them.

"A lot of it is in our control, which is the frustrating thing. So, yeah, it definitely feels like one that got away.

"We were 27-21 and looking quite strong at that stage. We scored three tries and you'd love us to kick on but maybe we get a little bit sucked into that free-flowing game, thinking we can score at every opportunity.

"Anyway, sometimes that's the lessons we have to go through.

James Ryan, left, and Florian Verhaeghe of Toulouse in a maul. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
James Ryan, left, and Florian Verhaeghe of Toulouse in a maul. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"It's a tough one to take for our guys. They put a lot into the week. We got one point and we're sitting second now in the pool, so it was a little bit of a lost opportunity, but on we go."

Position

With six points from their opening two games, they remain in a decent position; two behind Toulouse and ahead of Wasps and Bath, who they meet twice before Christmas.

Their margin for error has been reduced and what looked like a straightforward poll has been blown wide open, but there is enough experience in the Leinster set-up to calmly assess what went wrong and rectify it.

Not that they're entertaining the notion that dampening the enthusiasm outside the camp will be a factor.

Jack Conan breaks through the Toulouse defence. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Jack Conan breaks through the Toulouse defence. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"Ah, the hype is the hype. It's not something that we can really control," Cullen said. "For us there were lots of things in that game we can control better, and we just didn't quite fire.

"When you come off the back of a big win sometimes you develop some poor habits and we need to make sure that, if we win a game well, that we're not developing bad habits and behaviours.

"I think maybe one or two did creep into our game today, for whatever reason. We talked about it a lot but we didn't quite execute enough, but again that's the learning. Guys will be better for the experience."

Toulouse have a habit of coming out of the traps aggressively and fading and, while they were forewarned, Leinster couldn't stop them building an early lead.

Médard was on hand to punish loose play and his try, as well as nine points from the boot of Thomas Ramos, built a cushion.

Sexton kicked two penalties to get his side off the mark, before Jack Conan created a score for Seán O'Brien, who had replaced Josh van der Flier who was withdrawn after suffering a head injury.

Sexton converted, but impressive young No 8 Selevasio Tolofua stood O'Brien up and put Sofiane Guitoune through a gap to keep Leinster at arm's length.

Again, it didn't last as James Ryan powered over just after half-time and, when Cronin spotted a gap to score a third it looked like they might even leave with a try-scoring bonus.

Instead, they were on the receiving end of a superb piece of old-school Toulouse play that finished up with Médard crossing and the stadium erupting.

Leinster never got back in a position to mount one last charge.

"There would have been times when we would have settled for a losing bonus point away in France but the expectations of the group is higher now," Cullen said.

"We were coming here with a plan to win the game and it's frustrating that, when things were in our control, we didn't quite execute."

Those sentiments were echoed in the dressing-room.

"We just have to suffer together now on the way home; a rough, long journey home," Rhys Ruddock said. "Just the disappointment lingering but we will get back to review it and look at the performance itself and the way we prepared, as we always do, and challenge ourselves to get better and grow from it."

Toulouse - T Ramos; C Kolbe, S Guitoune, R Ntamack (Y Huget 23), M Medard; Z Holmes (A Dupont 55), S Bezy; C Castets (D Ainu'u 61); J Marchan (capt) (L Ghiraldinini 55), C Faumuina (M van Dyk 55); F Verhaeghe, J Tekori (LB Madaule 57); R Elstadt, A Placines,S Tolofua.

Leinster - J Larmour; J Tomane, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; J Sexton (capt), L McGrath (N McCarthy 74); C Healy (J McGrath 57), S Cronin (J Tracy 56), T Furlong (A Porter 56); D Toner, J Ryan; R Ruddock (S Fardy 66), J van der Flier (S O'Brien 18), J Conan.

Ref - W Barnes (England).

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