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'I have got to be proud of the guys for the way we came back'

Captain Isa Nacewa says Leinster always believed they could overhaul Clermont.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadium de Gerland, Lyon

THOUGH THEY PUT their hands up and accepted that their start to this game was unacceptable, particularly in a Champions Cup semi-final, Leinster are taking pride from the fact that they made a contest of it at all.

Isa Nacewa dejected after the game Isa Nacewa dejected at the final whistle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

To give up 15 points to Clermont in the opening 15 minutes was sinful and left Leo Cullen’s Leinster with a mountain to climb, but his players duly pulled their hiking boots on and strode purposefully uphill.

They thought they had hit the summit when Dan Leavy crossed for a 56th-minute try that was soon disallowed and they never quite got there in the end, despite a superb Garry Ringrose try again giving them hope, but Leinster leave Lyon satisfied that the effort was at least there.

“We came in at half time and took a deep breath and knew we hadn’t played and could get back in the game,” said captain Isa Nacewa, who was sin-binned in the first half.

There was 100% belief in the group that we could do that. I have got to be proud of the guys for the way we came back in that second half, but you just can’t give Clermont a lead like that in the first 40. We have got to take learnings, but it hurts, it really does.”

Many will point to the missing experience of the injured Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien in attempting to understand why Leinster so spectacularly failed to turn up at the beginning of this semi-final, but the eastern province are not blaming it on the innocence of youth.

There are many young players in this squad, but Rhys Ruddock – a real leader with a superb individual performance – says the older folk must learn too.

“I think as a group, it is more important that we learn from it,” said the blindside flanker. “This group hasn’t been through something like this before so we take those learnings from the first 15 minutes and the rest of the game, how we controlled the game, and take the positives from the game, how we finished.

“And if we get this opportunity again next year, we won’t make the same mistakes again.”

Jack Conan dejected after the game Jack Conan had a fine game for Leinster. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Leavy moment was a huge one, a decisive one. His offence is something that frequently occurs in rugby without being penalised, but there was enough there for Nigel Owens and his refereeing team to be satisfied they could chalk off the try.

“He probably tries to stick Rougerie but holds on too long,” said Cullen of that penalty against Leavy. “It’s one of those 50/50 calls. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way but across the game there is tonnes of those calls.

It was a big turning point – 10 points – but even after that the players fought back well, created some more good opportunities, getting very, very close. We just couldn’t quite get our noses in front.

“If we do get our noses in front the game takes on a very different complexion with Clermont chasing the game and us adapting our game slightly. You can’t fault the effort of the players.

“There is a lot of things in our control we could do better but overall we are very proud of the effort put in. We’re gutted to be out of the tournament but we’ll look back at the game and there is a number of things we can certainly do better and we have some big games coming up.

“It’s important we learn the lessons of how we manage the game because we have two games left in the Pro12 and then we will hopefully be involved in a semi-final and final after that.”

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Murray Kinsella

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