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Dublin: 5°C Monday 19 April 2021

'Johnny in the past has come back into big games' - Leinster's Cullen

The Leinster head coach was bitterly disappointed to end the season in losing fashion.

Murray Kinsella reports from the RDS

JOHNNY SEXTON’S TRAVAILS summed up the night for Leinster, though it should be said that the out-half was not the sole reason Leo Cullen’s side lost to the Scarlets last night.

The Ireland international did endure a tough time, though, as he dropped passes, miscued one kick directly into touch and left one restart short just after the Welsh side had scored a damaging try.

Johnny Sexton dejected after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The fact that the errors were so uncharacteristic made them all the more jarring, and others around Sexton were similarly out of form on a big night for the province.

The out-half has been on ice since the Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Clermont on 23 April, meaning tonight was his first game in four weekends, but Leinster head coach Cullen does not go along with the theory that Sexton could have used a game in the build-up to the semi-final to shake off any rust.

“Johnny in the past has come back into big games,” said Cullen post-match in the RDS. “If you think, he had that absence and he comes back into a Test match against France at the Aviva, so he’s had those big gaps.

“Even early in the season, he came back in here against the Ospreys after a big absence. So, no, I don’t think so. He played only three or four weeks ago.”

Cullen bemoaned the collective failings from Leinster instead, pointing out that they needed to be more responsive to how the Scarlets were defending, filling the frontline and intelligently attacking the breakdown.

On top of that, he felt that Leinster’s simple handling errors were extremely costly.

“The guys played with real intent at the start but we just couldn’t keep hold of the ball,” said Cullen.

“We kept coughing up the ball in terms of the ball carrier just losing the ball, five or six times. Scarlets didn’t have a huge amount of possession but they were clinical with their chances.

Cian Healy dejected after the game Cian Healy after the final whistle. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Once a team has a lead in a semi-final they’re going to go hard at the ball and that’s what they did. A lot of credit to them, they were brave in everything they did and we weren’t good enough today and it’s bitterly disappointing for us.”

It means a desperately disappointing end to a season that promised so much for Cullen and his exciting team.

The pain will be particularly keen next weekend as Leinster watch the Pro12 final at the Aviva Stadium, where they would have felt home advantage could have been decisive.

There was an opportunity to play a final in the Aviva and, if anything, it just brings back memories I have from 2003 when Leinster played in a home semi-final against Perpignan, odds-on favourites to win the game, and we don’t deal with that pressure or expectation.

“It can be hard to explain sometimes, but the players are gutted. We weren’t good enough and we need to have a good look at ourselves as a group and figure out how we can be better.

“A lot of young guys have come into the team for the first time this year and they need to make sure they don’t allow what happened today to happen to them in the future.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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