'A lot of people had written us off' - O'Connor proud of Leinster effort

The head coach says Leinster ‘would back ourselves to go anywhere and beat anybody with our best lads.’

Murray Kinsella reports from Stade Vélodrome

LEINSTER COACH MATT O’Connor stated his pride at the effort of his Leinster players during their 25-20 extra-time defeat to Toulon in the Champions Cup semi-finals.

The Irish province led from minutes 16 to 55 in a game that was closely-fought throughout, as Toulon produced an uncharacteristically high error count.

Matt O'Connor O'Connor at Stade Vélodrome earlier today. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Many of those mistakes came on account of the impressive defensive and set-piece pressure applied by Leinster, who couldn’t match their strength in those areas with the attacking thrusts that might have got them over the line against the Top 14 outfit.

“The overriding emotion is probably pride, really,” said O’Connor post-match in Marseille. “I thought the effort that the lads put in across the course of it was fantastic and it’s incredibly disappointing to come second.

“We were probably a little inaccurate at key moments in the second half. I thought we dominated for large periods, we put them under a hell of a lot of pressure and we made that tell on the scoreboard.

We led for large parts of it and we were probably the better side for large parts of it, but we came second in extra time and that probably determined the result.”

Bryan Habana’s intercept try in the first period of extra time stands out as the key difference between the teams, even though Leinster went on to force their way over the tryline with time running out.

That Habana’s try came with Toulon down to 14 men after Ali Williams’ sin binning was beside the point in O’Connor’s view.

“You look at it and that’s the obvious answer, but it doesn’t matter how many blokes they’ve got on the field – Habana takes an intercept and that was the turning point.

“We had knock-on advantage, there was an opportunity to play and Habana is world-class. He’s made a living out of that.”

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Mathieu Bastareaud and Guilhem Guirado tackle Rob Kearney Rob Kearney on the receiving end of a big hit from Mathieu Bastareaud and Guilhem Guirado. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The build-up to this game had featured as much negativity around Leinster as has become the norm in recent months on account of their stuttering form levels.

There was a grit in this performance that has been absent on other occasions in the campaign though, even if inaccuracies remained frequent. O’Connor was pleased to see his men stand up to Toulon despite the pre-match chatter.

The positive is the effort. The commitment that all 23 blokes were involved put in is second to none. There was a lot on the line, a lot of people had written us off but within the camp there was never that.

“Within the camp, we speak a lot about belief and we would back ourselves to go anywhere and beat anybody with our best lads. I think we showed that today.”

O’Connor said Fergus McFadden had been replaced in the second half with a thumb injury, which is likely to be x-rayed in Dublin tomorrow.

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Murray Kinsella

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