Thursday 2 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Gary Carr/INPHO The Leinster team dejected at full-time.
# Disappointment
Cullen and Sexton rue Leinster's failure to take scoring chances
‘It’s gutting for this group, we’re a very close group and now we’ll have to bounce back.’

BOTH LEO CULLEN and Johnny Sexton were left to rue Leinster’s inability to turn prime attacking positions into points as the province suffered defeat to Saracens in this evening’s Heineken Champions Cup.

Leinster’s bid for a record fifth European title fell flat at St James’ Park as Cullen’s side let a 10-point lead slip to be dethroned by a rampant and relentless Saracens outfit.

Mark McCall’s men, who claimed a third Champions Cup crown in four years, scored 20 unanswered points and showed their clinical edge on Tyneside, while Leinster were uncharacteristically inaccurate in the opposition 22.

The defending champions were guilty of spurning a number of gilt-edged scoring opportunities at the start of the second half, in particular, before Saracens pulled away to record a 20-10 victory.

“Very disappointed,” Sexton told Virgin Media at full-time. “We had our chances, we obviously got off to a good start and then we conceded just before half-time which was a killer moment.

Then we start the second half really well and we have two or three chances to score, which we don’t take. They’re the margins you live in in this competition. They were very clinical and they’re an excellent side.

Leading 10-3 through Tadhg Furlong’s first-half try, Leinster turned down the chance to kick the ball dead with the clock red, as Luke McGrath instead opted to box-kick and hand possession back to Saracens. 

From there, McCall’s side won a penalty and a booming Owen Farrell kick gave them the platform to strike on the cusp of the break, with Scottish winger Sean Maitland eventually going over to level things at 10-10.

Sexton continued: “We concede a penalty just before half-time, we made a ballsy enough play. At that ruck, we could have waited and tried to slow it down and kick it out, but we were thinking, let’s put pressure on them and get another score. But, like I say, you can never sit back.

Billy Vunipola scores a try despite James Lowe and Luke McGrath Billy Stickland / INPHO Vunipola's try was the game's defining moment. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“We didn’t take it, and they scored just before half-time and it’s a big moment. But it’s not the game as we had lots of chances in the second half. That’s the way I saw it anyway.

“They took their chances and we didn’t take ours. We coughed the ball up so many times close to their line, which we don’t normally do. They’re the margins that we live in, the things we’re normally very good at. We didn’t take those.”

Head coach Cullen added: “I thought we were in the game first half and probably just the end of the first half when Sarries have a man in the bin and we just don’t manage the game during that period.

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“We had chances there and we had chances at the start of the second half. We didn’t quite execute and once Sarries get their noses in front, they’re a very hard team to chase the game against. I thought they suffocated us in the last 30 minutes.”

While bitterly disappointing, Leinster will have to dust themselves down ahead of next weekend’s Pro14 semi-final against Munster at the RDS.

“It’s gutting for this group, we’re a very close group,” Sexton said. “We’ve come through some tough times to win it last year, and now we’ll bounce back again.” 

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