Sunday 25 February 2018

'It's hard to fathom' - Leo Cullen on Leinster saving worst performance of the season for PRO 12 semi-final

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen Sportsdesk

Leinster Head Coach Leo Cullen has said that it was 'hard to fathom' his side saving their worst performance of the season for Friday's PRO 12 semi-final loss to the Scarlets.

Leinster slumped to a 27-15 defeat at the RDS despite having a one-man advantage for the entire second-half after Scarlets winger Steff Evans was shown a red card for a tip tackle on Leinster centre Garry Ringrose.

The loss marked Leinster's third defeat in four matches following losses away to Clermont and Ulster, and now at home to the Scarlets, which marked Leinster's first ever home defeat in the PRO 12 semi-finals.

Cullen said that cheap turnovers and straying away from the gameplan were major contributors in the upset loss, but that it was hard to fathom his side saving their worst performance of the season for the province's most critical juncture.

"As the half wore on we got ourselves back into the game, but we kept coughing the ball up way too cheaply, guys really forcing things and going off-script," Cullen told RTE Sport after the game.

"We'll need to ask some questions about why we were doing that because it's not something we've had in our game all season and we've almost saved our worst performance of the season for the very end, which is hard to fathom really."

Leinster turned the ball over 29 times in the game, more than twice the number of turnovers conceded by the Scarlets, but Cullen said that Leinster were once again punished for a slow start, after the Blues conceded three tries in the opening half hour.

"We felt we were in a reasonably good place going into the game, we just didn't manage the first half well," added Cullen.

"A lot of threats we talked about all week that Scarlets posed, if we're loose with the ball and if we give them opportunities, and that's exactly what we did in the first half.

"We knock off a little defensively, we turn the ball over cheaply, we concede three tries and we're chasing the game. Then we lack any level of composure, which is frustrating because we are a good enough team to be able to manage our way back into the game."

The defeat marked Leinster's first home loss of the season with captain Isa Nacewa revealing that there was a pretty somber mood in the Leinster dressing room after the game.

"There's not many words being spoken in there, it's pretty quiet, as you'd expect when you bow out in a semi-final at the RDS and play the way we did," Nacewa told RTE.

"It's 10 times worse to do that in front of your loyal fans, who've followed us home and away all season, to put on that performance in front of them really hurts.

"We talked about believing in our process, and getting the basics right, when you don't do that it makes for a long half.

"We didn't play what was in front of us, we didn't look up and see space and we didn't get the basics right and you can't do that in a semi-final."

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