It is 9:10am on Monday the 13th May. I didn’t want to write this, I just wanted to let the weekend lie there in the ruins of a title challenge. Knowing that the ‘banter’ from other provinces would be taken up a notch, I avoided rugby forums but I just couldn’t ignore that final. As we stood in a packed marquee in the Sandymount hotel, the volume was huge, the volume in Newcastle was huge and all was looking good. And then the floor fell out from underneath me.
So let’s pick the scab of the Heineken Champions Cup Final.
With expectations high, but realistic in the room on the day the Guinness was nervously drank after the pre match analysis. I felt that Leinster needed to be aggressive and avoid passivity. Push back Saracens and get some scores on the board. If that happened then I felt you would see the Sarries heads drop as they haven’t had to work back from adversity in a long time.
33 minutes in, Leinster had done just that. Taken on the much bigger opponents and made them think about everything. At 34 minutes, it was 10-0 Leinster and they were great value for that score.
The call was made to box kick when the clock was in the red. As soon as the ball left McGrath’s foot (under orders from his playmaking partner) Leinster went chasing. The issue being that they didn’t/couldn’t compete with the kick. Saracens brought the game back to Leinster and Maitland ended up scoring at 43 minutes. Leinster had already scored between 30 and 40 which are the championship minutes and to come in to the changing rooms at 10-3 would have been huge. As the Furlong try went over you could see Sarries heads drop a bit. But Leinster handed them a lifeline. The frustration was palpable at half time. Not worried, just frustrated.
But the overall stats tell the story.
Leinster ran for 366 metres to Saracens 437, passed 215 to 175, had 56% possession for 50% territory (most of that in the first half), Leinster made 166 of 191 tackles for 87%, Saracens made 207 of 241 for 86%. Even with all of that pressure, the Leinster defence stayed relatively firm, only coughing up 6 penalties, Saracens gave away 10. Set pieces where near level with only 1 lineout lost all day.
Leinster conceded 17 turnovers, which is too many. 16 from Saracens.
The numbers say it was close; the score line does the same.
The second half started well for Leinster, Ringrose had a break and if picked the right decision would have had a serious overlap. That would have put Saracens back into their dropped head mode but the recent theme in Irish rugby raised its head again. Decision making. In this final there were 2 decisions that weren’t correct. Usually there are a couple of decisions that don’t come off as expected, but in a game this close and this important, 2 are too many. That is something that is easily sorted and something that has to be examined.
No one played badly in blue. They weren’t allowed to play, but in red, they had a handful of standouts. Saracens have 6 players with over 40 metres in the boots, Leinster had 4. Leinster had no one over 3 missed tackles and most of those where in the midfield, Saracens have 6 with 3 or more missed tackles. My point being that 10 points may sound big, but it wasn’t as big a difference between the teams as it looks.
The right team won and sometimes you need a bit of heartbreak when it has been a while since you have been on the wrong side of a big result.
So that is the game out of the way, Saracens saluted. The other issue coming out is the reaction online. Everything from ‘Sexton is predictable’, ‘Leinster has been found out’ and other clichés that have been rolling around social media since the 6 nations. Again this is fans versus supporters. Supporters know days like this happen and as long as losing doesn’t become a habit, can be beneficial. When you get to a final and lose after playing hard and not badly, you are not found out.
But that isn’t something the fans want on a Monday, they don’t want to be measured on a Monday, they want blood and for everything to fall apart!
Bring on Munster!