Ryan Baird passes the trophy. Billy Stickland/INPHO
Second best

'The changing room is devastated... It hurts. It hurts a lot'

Leinster were left to rue another one that got away in the Champions Cup final.

AS TOULOUSE WERE busy trying to carry the sponsor’s lifesize zebra statue down the tunnel into their changing room, Leinster were already back in theirs. It’s not hard to imagine the quiet desolation in that room.

For the third year in a row, they must deal with the dejection of losing the Champions Cup final.

They’ll be back competing again next year, with reinforcements of the quality of RG Snyman and Jordie Barrett on the way, but that won’t soothe their pain right now. Leinster were part of a final that will live long in the memory, one that took extra time to be decided, but they finished second best to a resilient Toulouse team.

It was a rollercoaster ride that left everyone in the stands at a rocking Tottenham Hotspur Stadium reeling, so Leinster’s players must be as physically exhausted as they are emotionally despondent. They still have the challenge of trying to win the URC ahead but the flight home tonight will be a miserable one. 

Right now, the pain feels every bit as acute as after the two final defeats to La Rochelle.

“Recency bias can be at play a little bit but it feels like the hurt is right up there,” said captain Caelan Doris.

“The changing room is devastated. I think the fact that we believed and we were knocking on the door right through the game… It hurts. It hurts a lot.”

Doris’ face bore evidence of how brutal a game it had been. He was immense for Leinster, one of a few players who stood up in a big way and did everything in their power to end the wait for another title.

Sitting alongside Doris was his head coach, Leo Cullen, who is always adept at handling lows and highs in a balanced way.

caelan-doris-during-the-post-match-press-conference Caelan Doris at the post-match press conference. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

He felt the difference between losing and winning was how well Toulouse scrambled and the big defensive moments they delivered at key stages of the game. Asked about the refereeing, he refused to get into the weeds of decisions that had gone against Leinster.

Unprompted, he moved to shoot down the narrative that this Leinster team have some sort of mental deficiency when it comes to finals.

“Everyone’s devastated in there now, they poured a hell of a lot into it,” said Cullen. “I think it’s two very good squads of players going at it in an amazing stadium and it comes down to the finest things, doesn’t it?

“There’s a drop goal at the end [by Ciarán Frawley] and if it goes a metre to the right we’re having a very different conversation in here, aren’t we?

“That’s the nature of sport at the top and obviously we’ve been on the losing side, unfortunately, on a few occasions now.

“You get this narrative that builds off the back of that, people start adding all the different bits together, but when you break down this specific game it came down to very tight calls at different stages and not enough of them went our way unfortunately over the course of particularly the first 80 minutes anyway.

“Whatever about the last 20, you lose James [Lowe] to the bin and they score their try.

“So, yeah, listen, the lads have been immense in terms of the character they’ve shown and they need to show a bit of character now because if you think about it you kind of get the sense of what’s coming, I guess.

“You know, you lose another final and we’ve got to deal with that ourselves. So the two lads either side of me [Doris and James Ryan], two great men, both young men, 26 and 27… as someone who was a play once upon a time, it took a while to get to that point.

jamison-gibson-park-dejected-after-the-game Leinster scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“So for the two lads particularly as leaders of the group right now, we were bashing away in this competition for a long time and if you remember we were never in the finals. So we’ve a different level of disappointment.”

“But it’s not like there’s a lack of belief that we can actually go and do this.

“There is a belief that we can do this. We just have to stick it at it because I think when they get across the line, which I have every confidence that they will as a group, these two guys will be spearheading that challenge for many years to come.”

As with Doris, there was blood on Ryan’s face as he stared out into the media auditorium in London.

He rejected the notion that Leinster’s nerves about another final had been a factor in them coming up short this time.

“What we said in the changing room was, when you want to do great things and you want to achieve great things, you always want the risk of failing greatly as well, do you know what I mean?

“Would I rather be in a team that tries to be the best team in Europe every year and risks feeling like this? I still would.

“That’s part of trying to do special things, but as I said, you run the risk of feeling like this, but that’s the way we are. We want to win trophies and there’s a lot more hurt now, but as Leo said, we just have to bounce back.

“That’s the way it is. Bounce back in another competition to go after and hopefully do as well as we can in that.”

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