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O'Connor's Leinster look to learn from semi-final failings against Toulon

Captain Jamie Heaslip says his side knew they had to do their supporters proud in Marseille.

Murray Kinsella reports from Marseille

LEINSTER FLEW BACK into Dublin from Marseille last night with sore bodies and heavy heads.

100 minutes of brutally physical rugby in surprisingly wet conditions in the south of France ended with a 25-20 defeat to defending champions Toulon in the semi-finals of Europe.

Jimmy Gopperth dejected at the final whistle Jimmy Gopperth shows his dejection at the final whistle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There’s little respite for Matt O’Connor’s men, however, as they immediately look towards Friday’s trip to Ulster, one final chance to drag themselves back into the Guinness Pro12 play-off race.

Those hopes appeared to end with defeat to the Dragons two weekends ago, but now that their Champions Cup exit has been confirmed, Leinster look at the closing three regular season games in the league as their only chance of redemption.

“We’ll re-group and see how the bodies are,” said O’Connor after yesterday’s defeat to Toulon. “We’ve got to get three wins in the league to give ourselves any chance and hope other results go our way.

From that perspective, we’ll regroup, dust ourselves off and have a look at the challenge in the next three games.”

In truth, it seems a lost cause and O’Connor faces in a demanding task in ensuring the physical and emotional investment that will be needed to upset Ulster’s drive for a Pro12 title on Friday in Belfast.

There is at least sustenance to take from the manner in which Leinster pushed Toulon in Marseille, even if they will rue their inability to create more with ball in hand.

“We always have an inner belief, an inner confidence that if you do your job and have the confidence in your teammate of doing his job, that we are a good team and that we can stress teams and create situations to get some points,” said captain Jamie Heaslip post-match at Stade Vélodrome.

Chris Masoe takes some photos Toulon's Chris Masoe celebrates his side's win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think we showed that. The group talked quickly afterwards about having that confidence now going forward. We’ve got a massive challenge in the league, in the Pro12 going forward now. We’ve got a quick turnaround off the back of this.

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“We knew we had to produce some of our best rugby and do all the people that travelled down here, all the people that watched at home, the squad members that weren’t here, do all those people proud and hopefully we did that through our effort and our actions.”

Attention shifts back to the Pro12 for now, but in the longer-term Leinster may learn from their failings in Marseille. To be back in the final four in Europe suggests that Leinster are not a spent force in this competition, and the return of Johnny Sexton will bring greater firepower next season.

O’Connor’s hope is that his current players gain from this defeat in France.

There’s going to be growth in the group from an experience perspective to come down here in a semi-final against a very, very good side and go close,” said O’Connor.

“You’ll learn lessons from that and you’ll build confidence going into the European Cup next year off the back of what we’ve delivered.

“There’ll be growth, there’s blokes coming into the environment, we’ve got a World Cup to manoeuvre our way through. We’ll be better for it.”

After a season in which optimism levels have waned for the Leinster faithful, the prospect of that growth next season is at least something to be encouraged by. For O’Connor, Heaslip and the rest of the group, all eyes must move to Ulster for now.

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Murray Kinsella

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