Leinster coach Leo Cullen revealed that his players were devastated after their semi-final loss to the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship.
The Pretoria side ended Leinster’s four-year streak in the competition with a 27-26 triumph in Dublin, thanks to a well-executed tactical plan from Jake White’s men.
Cullen admits the loss is difficult to take and is a hard lesson for the players while also commending the Bulls for their impressive performance on the day.
“It is pretty sick in there, yeah,” he said. “There’s so much work that goes into getting the team to knock-out games and to fall short here, particularly at home in the RDS at this time of year, is disappointing.
“They were very clinical when they got down our end, they came with a good plan and it is painful for our guys in there at the moment.
“As I have said previously to our young guys, it is a hard lesson, you need to learn sometimes.
“The Bulls are a quality team, they came with a good plan, they were well coached and once they had a lead and played that pressure game, they didn’t have to do huge amount, but they just put the squeeze on us.
“And we just weren’t really accurate enough when we were chasing the game. We created plenty of opportunities but, you know, when you come to semi-finals against top-end teams, you need all your players sort of in an eight, nine, 10 out of 10 in terms of how they play the game. Unfortunately for us some of us, some of us were just not good enough today.”
Only last week, Leinster claimed a monstrous 76-14 win over Glasgow Warriors in the quarter-finals. Cullen refused to admit his team were complacent but claimed the big win could have been an influence.
“That’s what it comes down to, it’s execution in the big moments in the big game. Across the board, we just weren’t quite there today. We talked about the potential for that,” he said.
“Complacency is probably the wrong word, but it takes a little bit of the edge off when you have a big win and you try to reset to go again. Having said that we did start the game okay, but we give away some pretty important turnovers which allows the Bulls build a lead.
“When it comes to these high-stakes pressure games, particularly when the conditions deteriorate a little bit as well, it became harder to chase the game. Unfortunately, we weren’t accurate enough over the course of 80 minutes.”
Cullen praised the South African teams and explained how they added value to the competition.
“You see the South African teams play, they don’t change much. They’re very cohesive, they don’t make many changes in the course of the year, they do what they do and aren’t trying to hide anything. But they’re effective at what they do,” he added.
“For us, you have to learn some pretty harsh lessons at times, but the South African teams will add a lot to this competition, you’ve seen it already now.
“For our guys, I don’t know is there a little bit of an expectancy we’ll get through to the next round, that’s just not how it worked. Credit to the Bulls, they came with a plan, executed it well on the day, and our guys were just not quite good enough unfortunately.
“South Africa play pressure rugby better than anybody and they’re successful on some of those big days so that’s the bit that we need to try and figure out when it comes to these big days, because lots of really positive stuff and things have gone into the course of this season.
“We blooded a lot of young players and we’re bringing young players through all the season and gained that bit of experience, but even the young guys they come up short when we’re away in South Africa, even though they do lots of great things when they’re out there.
“So yeah, it’; unbelievably disappointing and it’s hard to verbalise because as I said there’s so much work that’s gone in to get us to this point, but you need to be able to deliver on the big days and unfortunately for us we weren’t good enough on the day.
“But yeah, unfortunately, we’ll be watching the final this year. We’ve been involved in finals in the last number of years. We’d love to be there again. It’s bitterly disappointing for our players who are coming to the end of their Leinster careers as well, whether they’re retiring or moving on to new challenges.”