'It's not a good decision to box kick it when you cough up a 10-3 lead'

Leinster opted to keep the ball in play at the end of the first half and conceded a try.

Murray Kinsella reports from St James’ Park

WITH THE CLOCK having ticked into the red and Leinster recovering possession as they held a 10-3 lead, the expectation was that they would kick the ball into touch and take their seven-point advantage into the break.

But Leo Cullen’s side backed themselves to find another score in the dying moments of the opening half, opting instead to kick infield.

Jack McGrath, Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, James Tracy and Scott Fardy dejected after the game Leinster were left gutted in Newcastle. Gary Carr / INPHO Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

Billy Vunipola claimed Luke McGrath’s box kick, Rob Kearney couldn’t roll away from his tackle on the Saracens number eight, Jerome Garces signalled the penalty, Owen Farrell kicked it into the Leinster 22. 

And with 42:35 on the clock, Sean Maitland touched down at the end of an imposing Saracens attacking set.

Farrell slotted the conversion and suddenly Leinster were walking off at half-time with a 10-10 scoreline.

“Our thinking at the time was to kick the ball on Billy Vunipola, who was standing on the 22, and try to win the ball over his head and try to get a two-score lead before half-time,” said Leinster captain Johnny Sexton post-match at St James’ Park.

“Obviously, we kicked the ball as close to their 22, you don’t want to concede a penalty and be defending a 22 lineout. Your decisions are as good as they are in hindsight.

“We made a ballsy decision when we were 3-0 up to go for a scrum and not take three points. It’s a great decision because we scored. It’s not a good decision to box kick it when you cough up a 10-3 lead.

“That period just before half-time and that period just after half-time where we had maybe two or three chances to score, that’s how it felt when we were in their 22 pounding away at their line, when we got so close to their line a couple of times and didn’t take advantage of the overlap or we coughed up a couple of offloads or a turnover on the deck.

“That 20 minute period before and after half-time was crucial in the end.”

Maro Itoje celebrates after the game Saracens were deserved winners. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

There is no doubting that Leinster will have some regrets about those minutes after half-time.

Garry Ringrose failing to pass with a huge overlap wide on the right, Tadhg Furlong getting stripped by George Kruis in the tackle, Jordan Larmour getting turned over by Liam Williams after the Saracens wing made a stunning spot hit to prevent a try.

All in all, head coach Leo Cullen summed up the feeling in the Leinster changing room as “gutted.”

“I thought our guys started the game really well and created lots of opportunities, built that lead,” said Cullen. “Everyone is going to talk about the period either side of half-time because that’s where Sarries score some points and we give up the advantage that we had built.

“But there are so many different moments in the game. Even with that Johnny is saying, we created loads of opportunities but you just need to make sure you nail the chances. 

“They probably strangled us then in the last 20 or 30 minutes, once they had a lead.

“There’s some big calls at various different stages of the game, which we probably missed out on and that’s ultimately how we lost the game.

“We’re gutted, we’d love to be sitting here with a more positive outcome but full credit to the players and the way they’ve applied themselves, the way everyone has worked behind the scenes to make sure we’re in good shape at the end of the season.”

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