'We would've loved to have seen how close we could've got to Saracens'

Johnny Sexton sees Leinster’s European season as one of progress.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadium de Gerland, Lyon

TYPICALLY, JOHNNY SEXTON was desperate for a shot at Saracens.

The fact that it would have been a Champions Cup final was motivation enough, but the Leinster out-half would also have taken deep pleasure from going up against the team most consider to be the best in Europe.

Johnny Sexton dejected Sexton wasn't convinced by Dan Leavy's try should have been disallowed. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Sexton likes measuring himself against those at the very peak and it’s clear that Saracens are in exactly that position within European club rugby. Clermont will provide stern opposition in the final, but anything other than a Sarries win in Edinburgh on 13 May would be a surprise.

“We would have loved to have seen how close we could have gotten to Saracens and we don’t get the chance now, which is really gutting,” said Sexton after yesterday’s 27-22 defeat to Clermont in Lyon.

“We’ll learn from it and come back stronger I think. We spoke about it afterwards, we’ve got to use this experience and get better for it and try and win the Pro12 now.”

While the disappointment of losing in the final four will linger on for Leinster, they are firmly of the belief that they have made leaps of improvement over the course of this European season.

They returned to the semi-final stage for one, but it was the manner in which they did so and with youth in their squad that pleased Sexton most.

“The young guys have come in and made a big impact, Stuart [Lancaster] has made a huge impact,” said Sexton. “We thought we could have done it this year, we weren’t happy that we got to the semi-final.

“It’s a big improvement on last year, we’d big aspirations to go and compete in the final against Saracens, who would have been favourites but we would have fancied our chances. Edinburgh would have turned blue, we’d have turned out. It’s gutting, small margins.”

Speaking of those fine margins, Sexton saw the decision to disallow Dan Leavy’s try as perhaps the key moment in the contest at Stadium de Gerland.

Johnny Sexton is consoled by Nick Abendanon Nick Abendanon consoles Sexton at the final whistle. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

The Leinster openside was the man penalised after a TMO review showed that he had clung onto Aurelien Rougerie’s ankle at the ruck that preceded a big Fergus McFadden linebreak to spark the try.

Sexton wasn’t quite as convinced about Leavy’s actions as TMO Jon Mason had been.

“It’s a massive point in the game, at 15-12 [to Clermont],” said Sexton. “We [could have gone] ahead for the first time in the game having had all the ball at the start of the second half.

“In fairness, Camille Lopez had two great drop goals but even then I don’t think they looked like scoring in that second half, they didn’t really have the ball. It was a big turning point. I couldn’t really see the big screen to be honest, it was pretty poor.

“Maybe Dan cleaned him out of the ruck, but maybe held on to him. I thought he let go in time, thought maybe Rougerie wouldn’t have made the tackle anyway. He didn’t look like he wanted to make the tackle.

“Those things just sometimes aren’t taken into account, we were a little bit frustrated with a few of the calls. But at the end of the day we weren’t good enough, we were beaten by the better team and we’ve got to say that.

“We still could have won the game, even when we got the penalty to get within a try, we win the kick-off there and you wouldn’t have bet against us going the length – at least I believe that.

“Look, we’re proud of ourselves but ultimately not good enough.”

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