Champions Cup: ‘Devastated’ Leinster had the chance to claim the title but could not capitalise on their lead

Dylan Coetzee

Leinster captain Johnny Sexton believes his side was in a position to claim the win over La Rochelle in the Champions Cup final but could not capitalise.

The French side won the Champions Cup thanks to a late Arthur Retiere try earning La Rochelle a 24-21 win and their first major trophy.

Tough loss

Sexton’s men had the lead and looked poised to claim an impressive fifth European title, but it was not to be for Irishmen, who were said to be devastated after the game.

“Everyone is pretty devastated in there, it’s a tough way to lose, in the last second and not even have a chance to come back and try to win the game,” Sexton said after the game.

“A couple of slips, and fair play to (Arthur) 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.

“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. 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.”

Sexton commended his players on their efforts and rued some inaccuracies that cost them the game from a winning position.

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

“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.”

For the Irish outfit, they now turn their attention to the United Rugby Championship playoffs and will look to bounce back mentally before taking on Glasgow Warriors next weekend.

“We judge ourselves off both 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 in 60 seconds of it, it’s a pretty bad dressing room to be in at the moment,” Sexton added.

“We have to dust ourselves off. It’s an incredible tournament, so hard to win, to think of all the good teams are in it and only one gets to walk away with the prize, La Rochelle got to do that today.”

Leinster coach Leo Cullen said he felt for his team after the hard work and sacrifice put into the season.

“It’s a sickener, for starters. The lads that worked incredibly hard this year, the players, the back room. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into getting a team to this point. We had amazing support this year, and it’s great to be at this stage. It’s hugely frustrating from our point of view, whatever you want to put on it, because it means so much to us. It means so much to all of us,” said Cullen.

READ MORE: Champions Cup: Tactical masterclass from Ronan O’Gara earns La Rochelle their first major trophy