How Jacques Nienaber knew Northampton were ‘always going to come back’ in dramatic Champions Cup semi-final

Dylan Coetzee
Leinster head coach Jacques Nienaber.

Leinster senior coach Jacques Nienaber.

Leinster senior coach Jacques Nienaber reflected on a brilliant semi-final in the Champions Cup that saw the Irish side edge Northampton Saints 20-17 on Saturday.

Nienaber’s men were off to a strong start and gathered points quickly with James Lowe scoring a hat-trick of tries in the first 43 minutes to give Leinster a 20-3 lead over their rivals.

Always going to

However, Saints worked hard after the break and launched a legitimate fightback attempt, eventually getting within three points of Leinster. Ultimately the English side’s incredible effort came up short and Nienaber admits he always knew they would come back into the game.

“No, you just have to win it and again that comes down to Saints. The bottom line is you must get over the line. You must do everything in your power to win. I mean, nobody buried them. Has any team buried them?” said Nienaber.

“My thought during the whole game was listen, ‘we need to win this game’. That’s the thing about semis and that’s what makes semi-finals such a difficult game. Just ‘we need to get a win’ and I never thought it would be easy. Even at 50 minutes, I didn’t think it was easy.

“I don’t know how much you guys followed them in the Premiership or in Europe, they were 28-something down against Exeter, a quality rugby team, and they ended up winning that game in the last minute.

“So, it’s not something that they haven’t done. So yes, even though we were 20-3 up, I think up to 55 or 58 minutes, yes we were playing well at that stage and were controlling the game but one lineout loss, two quick rucks and a good attacking kick in behind and you’re scrambling, and you don’t control that situation and they score. But that’s the team they are.”

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Open to risk

Nienaber delved into the psychology of a chasing team and how their openness to risky plays late on makes them difficult to handle.

“I always think when you play in a semi-final and your opposition is of that calibre they are always going to come back,” says Nienaber.

“Things that would have been risky at the start of the game aren’t quite the risk anymore because you are now at such a stage you are willing to risk more and more and more.

“Sometimes that risk doesn’t pay off and the game just runs away. You are sometimes between a rock and a hard place. If you don’t take those risks now you are not going to get back into the game and if those things stick, then you get yourself back into the game. It is handling that. Handling the reality of that, knowing that teams will take a little bit more risk especially when you lead.”

Leinster turn their attention to a home clash with the Ospreys in the United Rugby Championship before a trip to Ulster which is followed by the Champions Cup final against Toulouse at the Tottenham Hotspurs Stadium on May 25.

READ MORE: Champions Cup Team of the Week: ‘World-class’ Leinster star, Springbok powerhouse and Toulouse’s workhorse shine in semi-finals