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'This is the one we desperately wanted to win, and we've come within 60 seconds of it'

Leinster captain Johnny Sexton reflects on a difficult day for the province in Marseille.

Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Leinster captain Johnny Sexton.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

JOHNNY SEXTON SAYS Leinster’s Champions Cup final loss to La Rochelle was a “devastating” defeat to stomach, after the French side recorded a dramatic victory in Marseille.

Sexton was looking to win his – and Leinster’s – fifth Champions Cup title and while they controlled the scoreboard for much of the game, a spirited and well drilled La Rochelle side turned in a massive effort to snatch the win with the last play of the game, tries from Raymond Rhule, Pierre Bourgarit and Arthur Retiere seeing the French side pull off a remarkable resulting in Marseille, delivering the club’s first Champions Cup title.

“Everyone is pretty devastated in there,” said Sexton.

“It’s a tough way to lose, in the last second and not even have a chance to come back and try and win the game.

“Look, you can’t fault the effort, the spirit. To hold La Rochelle out for the last however many minutes it was, was incredible.

“You can’t fault the effort, at times, it comes down to the bounce of the ball and a couple of decisions. We will look at them but we will also look at ourselves about some of the inaccuracies that we had.

“We were in a position to win the game, we just couldn’t nail it.”

While Leinster still have a United Rugby Championship quarter-final against to look forward to next Saturday, this is the tournament the province so desperately want to win each season, Sexton admitting “it’s the pinnacle for us every year” during his pre-match press conference on Fruday.

“We judge ourselves off both (the URC and Champions Cup) but ultimately, yeah, I can’t contradict what I said yesterday, this is the one that everyone wants to win.

This is the one we desperately wanted to win, and we’ve come within 60 seconds of it, it’s a pretty bad dressing room to be in at the moment.

“A couple of slips, and fair play to Retiere for reaching out. It was tough to take. Obviously there were a lot of things that didn’t go our way in the last 30 minutes when we were in control of the game. That’s the devastating bit.”

It was a cruel way to lose, but Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle were full value for their win, outscoring the province 3-0 in terms of tries and implementing a clever gameplan to contain Leo Cullen’s side.

“We had chances to score, probably, at times, and we could have been a bit more aggressive and gone for tries on a couple of those penalties, because they were repeatedly infringing,” Sexton continued.

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“But we decided to keep the scoreboard ticking over, but hindsight is a great thing, everyone is an expert. We made the decisions, and we were in control. A couple of big moments, a couple of big decisions that put them in a position to get into our 22.

“They had just gone down to 14, and we give away a high tackle which… I don’t know… They got down to our 22, and we don’t get out of there again. Fair play to the lads, how brave they were and how well defended. I thought we were going to hold out, but we didn’t.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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