Leo Cullen: ‘Everyone’s devastated in there now, they poured a hell of a lot into it’

Leinster head coach and senior players confident they can rebound from their latest Champions Cup final defeat

Beaten but unbowed, despite a third successive final defeat Leo Cullen and his team leaders defiantly maintained that Leinster can rebound once again from another acute disappointment in their pursuit of what is proving to be an elusive fifth star.

The Leinster head coach, who captained the province to their first three triumphs in this competition, rejected the notion that this final ever “got away” from his team and underlined how the margins in this latest final defeat were again tiny.

“I thought we had some really positive passages of play. It was probably just Toulouse, they scrambled well, came up with some big moments defensively, that was probably the difference.

“But the lads, I thought, were immense. They kept firing shots at Toulouse all the way through it and didn’t quite get the rewards at different stages for lots of different reasons, probably, within the game.


“Everyone’s devastated in there now, they poured a hell of a lot into it. I think it’s two very good squads of players going at it in an amazing stadium and it comes down to the finest things, doesn’t it? There’s a drop goal at the end and if it goes a metre to the right, we’re having a very different conversation in here, aren’t we?” said Cullen in reference to an 80th-minute drop goal attempt by Ciarán Frawley which went fractionally wide.

“That’s the nature of sport at the top and obviously we’ve been on the losing side, unfortunately, on a few occasions now. You get this narrative that builds off the back of that, people start adding all the different bits together. But when you break down this specific game it came down to very tight calls at different stages and not enough of them went our way unfortunately, over the course of particularly the first 80 minutes anyway, whatever about the last 20.”

As well as losing three finals, no team has ever reached four successive finals, but looking to the future Cullen was fairly adamant that his squad are equipped to return next season and bang on the door once more.

Flanked by captain for the day Caelan Doris and the squad’s co-captain James Ryan, Cullen described them as “the two lads either side of me, two great men, both young men, 25 and 27″ and added: “As someone who was a player once upon a time, it took a while to get to that point. For the two lads particularly as leaders of the group right now, we were bashing away in this competition for a long time and if you remember we were never in the finals. So we’ve a different level of disappointment.

“But it’s not like there’s a lack of belief that we can actually go and do this. There is a belief that we can do this. We just have to stick at it because I think when they get across the line, which I have every confidence that they will as a group, these two guys will be spearheading that challenge for many years to come.”

Although the penalty count was 16-15 in Leinster’s favour, Cullen’s comments suggested he was unhappy with some of Matthew Carley’s decisions, not least that 10 of those 15 penalties conceded afforded Toulouse shots at goal.

Asked about the high penalty count, Cullen laughed and said: “I’ll have to look back at the finer details and listen, we will have a look back at all those calls in terms of the decision making from everything really. There’s the two teams and there’s the officials in the middle and we’ll look back on those decisions. But for us, we have to focus on within the game on what we can control.

“There’s some tight calls throughout the game and due to the nature of the pitch, when you give away a penalty on the halfway line, because the pitch is only 95 metres in length, then some of their goalkickers – all the goalkickers – come into range and credit to them. They were a little more clinical in terms of taking their opportunities and some of them were off the tee.”

Cullen maintained that had Leinster converted any of their pressure or line breaks into tries it would have forced Toulouse’s hand, while again crediting them for big defensive plays. He also admitted he was none the wiser as to why Carley whistled for a supposed knock-on before James Lowe finished in the corner with the penultimate play of the first half.

Doris, who has played every minute of the last three finals, admitted that this defeat hurt the most.

“Recency bias can be a play a little bit but it feels like the hurt is right up there. The changing room is devastated. I think the fact that we believed and we were knocking on the door right through the game, it hurts. It hurts a lot.”

Ryan, who has also played in three successive final losses, echoed his coach’s view when stating: “What we said in the changing room was: ‘When you want to do great things and you want to achieve great things, you always want the risk of failing greatly as well.’ Do you know what I mean?

“Would I rather be in a team that tries to be the best team in Europe every year and have risks in a team like this? I still would.

“That’s part of trying to do special things, but as I said, you run the risk of feeling like this. But that’s the way we are. We want to win trophies and there’s a lot more hurt now, but as Leo said, we just have to bounce back. That’s the way it is. Bounce back in another competition [the URC] to go after, and hopefully do as well as we can in that.”

Alongside him, Cullen nodded in agreement.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times