Champions Cup: Matt O’Connor proud despite Leinster defeat
Head coach insists that the effort in their defeat to Toulon shows they can take on anyone as attention turns to tough PRO12 run-in
Matt O’Connor hailed his Leinster players who came up just short in a 25-20 defeat to reigning European champions Toulon in extra time at the Stade Veldrome.
In what was far from a thrilling encounter, 20 points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny was the difference after 100 minutes of gruelling rugby with Ian Madigan only able to contribute 15 for the Irish province.
The effort the lads put in was fantastic and we are obviously incredibly disappointed to come second.
Leinster boss Matt O’Connor
With the scoreline locked at 12-12 after 80 minutes, two penalties from Halfpenny and a converted Bryan Habana try was enough to see the reigning champions through to the 2 May final against Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham, a repeat of the 2013 final at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
A Madigan penalty in extra time was added to by a late Sean O’Brien try, after Halfpenny had kicked two penalties and converted Bryan Habana’s intercept try, but with Madigan off the field Jimmy Gopperth’s conversion attempt hit the post and the writing was on the wall for the Leinstermen.
“The overwhelming emotion is one of pride,” O’Connor said.
“The effort the lads put in was fantastic and we are obviously incredibly disappointed to come second.
“Habana’s intercept was the turning point – he is world-class.
“The positive for us was the effort; it was second to none.
“A lot of people had written us off coming into this game, but we will back ourselves to go anywhere and beat anybody.”
With their European campaign over, O’Connor and his men will now turn their attentions to the Guinness PRO12 as their title defence reaches a critical stage.
Within the camp, we speak a lot about belief and we would back ourselves to go anywhere and beat anybody with our best lads.
An indifferent season, hit by a lengthy injury list, sees the back-to-back champions in fifth place with three rounds to play.
A defeat in their interpro clash with Ulster in Belfast on Friday night coupled with a win for fourth-placed Ospreys over Cardiff Blues would see their title defence ended.
While Leinster can never be entirely written off, as their defeat to Toulon showed, few expect them to reach this season’s play-offs, but O’Connor insists that his squad back themselves to win anywhere.
“We may have lost, but this performance has shown we can compete against the best club side ever put together,” he added.
“The positive is the effort. The commitment that all 23 blokes who were involved put in is second to none.
“There was a lot on the line, a lot of people had written us off, but within the camp there was never that.
“Within the camp, we speak a lot about belief and we would back ourselves to go anywhere and beat anybody with our best lads. I think we showed that today.
“We’ve got to get three wins in the league to give ourselves any chance and hope other results go our way.
“From that perspective, we’ll regroup, dust ourselves off and have a look at the challenge in the next three games.”