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European exits for Leinster and Munster but progress has been made

The eastern province were the closer to reaching the Champions Cup final.

Murray Kinsella reports from Stadium de Gerland

THE CHAT ABOUT a possible all-Irish Champions Cup final in Murrayfield was hopeful in truth and, after an absorbing weekend of semi-final action, it transpires that neither Munster nor Leinster will compete in the decider on 13 May.

Garry Ringrose Garry Ringrose on his way to a stunning try against Clermont. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Instead, Saracens will head in as favourites to retain their title, although Clermont’s whirlwind opening 15 minutes against Leinster yesterday showed their attacking class and they will take confidence from their ability to close out a game that very nearly got away from them.

For the two Irish provinces, these defeats in the last four put an obvious dampener on what have been exciting and encouraging European campaigns, but missing out on the final is probably just about right in terms of their quality.

Leo Cullen’s men definitely have the greater right to be aggrieved by the final result in their tie, with their opening 15 minutes proving to be the difference against a team they will feel they should have got the better of.

“We feel very frustrated because we are that close and a lot of it is in our own control,” said Cullen after Leinster’s 27-22 defeat. “Everyone is gutted in the dressing room. We gave a lot, we prepared incredibly well, we worked so hard through the season.

The players are frustrated because there are certain things we could managed better but there are some learnings for a lot of players.

“Hopefully we learn our lessons, we can improve and get better so if we’re in this situation again, in France or wherever, we can manage the scenario better. But there is a lot more to come from this team.”

Cullen’s words echo those of Erasmus on Saturday after his Munster team came up short at the semi-final stage, albeit with a greater losing margin against the impressive Saracens.

Munster stressed that their still-emerging players like Niall and Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam will learn valuable lessons from having been involved in the last four of Europe.

Rassie Erasmus Munster believe they are only at the start of their journey. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

In Munster, it feels very much like the beginning of the journey and the references to how Saracens learned harsh lessons through defeats in knock-out games during Mark McCall’s earliest years with the club were apt.

Leinster sense that they’re in a similar situation, albeit they believe they are already good enough to take on and beat a team like Saracens.

Still, the eastern province see next season’s European campaign as even more winnable because their young players will be even better in 12 months’ time. Garry Ringrose, Tadhg Furlong, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Leavy and others are still growing.

We said out on the field that we have to learn from this experience,” said captain Isa Nacewa after their defeat. “There are a lot of young guys across the team who will have take great learnings out of today and will look to get better.

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“As a squad, we have to take great learnings out of today and just prepare for the coming weeks as there are still more trophies for us to chase.”

Indeed there is a Pro12 trophy on the line at the end of this month in the Aviva Stadium and the hopes for an all-Irish final in this competition are far more realistic.

With Leinster already guaranteed a home semi-final in the Pro12 and Munster expected to wrap theirs up, the wise money is on this pair going head-to-head in the decider in Dublin on 27 May.

Hayden Triggs, Richardt Strauss and Jack McGrath dejected Triggs, Richardt Strauss and Jack McGrath. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

That trophy would be comforting consolation after a European exit in the semi-finals.

“We’ve still got to work,” said Leinster lock Hayden Triggs. “It’s not done and dusted. We were really hoping to move forward in this competition but now our focus is solely on Glasgow at home.

“We’ve secured a home semi, so we’ve got two massive matches coming up in the Pro12, hopefully we can get some momentum and confidence back and move on to bigger things.”

– First published 06.00, 24 Apr

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Murray Kinsella

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