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Courtney Lawes: 'Disappointing thing is we didn’t really test them'

By Liam Heagney
Courtney Lawes leads Northampton off after their narrow Croke Park loss (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Courtney Lawes paid tribute on Saturday night to the fighting spirit shown by Northampton, but the retired England Test back-rower admitted his team made too many mistakes to crib over their 17-20 Investec Champions Cup semi-final loss at Leinster.

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The 35-year-old had hoped to be leading his Saints out at Tottenham in the May 25 final in his final season at the Gallagher Premiership club before his move next season to France and a very different rugby experience in the Pro D2 with Brive.

However, Northampton ultimately paid dearly for a poor start in front of a tournament record 82,300 attendance at Croke Park, giving up two early tries and going on to trail 0-15 after 30 minutes and 3-20 four minutes into the second half.

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The English league leaders commendably fought their way back from this adversity, scoring two converted tries to have Leinster on the backfoot in the closing moments, but they were ultimately unable to land either the match-winning-try sucker punch or the drop goal that would have taken the semi-final to extra time.

Lawes never doubted his side would respond positively to being so heavily under the pump against an opposition seeking to qualify for their third successive Champions Cup final. However, he was left to rue the multiple errors that left the Premiership leaders with a margin that was just a bit too much to overcome.

Fixture
Investec Champions Cup
Leinster
20 - 17
Full-time
Northampton
All Stats and Data

“I don’t think we ever felt like we were out of the game, to be honest,” he insisted. “Probably in the second half when they scored that early try, that was probably one of the points where we had to find ourselves as a team – and I think we did that.

“It’s a credit to the players that we can have something like that happen. We said all the right things at half-time, we come out and it doesn’t go your way again – to get back on the horse and go back at them, to be able to do that as a team is very good going forward.

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“But I think the disappointing thing is we didn’t really test them; like we didn’t really put our game on the park how we wanted to. We had a lot of mistakes, dropped a lot of ball, gave away a lot of penalties. You can’t win at the highest level if you are doing that kind of stuff.

“That was obviously where we lost the game. On the plus side, we were able to push one of the best club teams in the world probably and show everybody we are not going to get pushed over by anyone. There are a lot of positives to take but it’s a really good learning for us.”

Director of rugby Phil Dowson agreed. “When we set out on the European campaign we said we wanted to challenge ourselves against the best sides to find out who we are and where we are as a group. In terms of our togetherness and connectedness, that speaks volumes about our game.

“There are clearly things we need to be better at and I hope that the experience of today will allow us to do that moving forward. The first thing we need to do is make sure we put this to bed, have a drink together tonight and celebrate what that campaign was, and make sure we prepare for Gloucester appropriately over the next couple of days into next week.

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“I felt the longer the game was 20-10 the more it fell into our hands in terms of that pressure and we came more and more into the game across the board. All the substitutions had a big impact on that and that has been one of our strengths throughout this season, our strength in depth. Guys who are coming in, guys who are coming off the bench have an impact.

“Elliot Millar-Mills I thought did that today from a set-piece point of view. Sam Matavesi as well… Loads of positives in terms of those guys coming in but again, as Courtney says, the frustration is we didn’t quite get our game going in the first half in order to create more pressure. You give Leinster a 17-point start, that last 20 minutes is going to be tough.”

Full-back George Furbank equally laid the blame for the loss on how the Premiership club fared in the first half against their URC hosts.

“First half we didn’t look after the ball well enough, probably tried force things that weren’t really there to start off with but we calmed down after the first 20 minutes and created enough opportunities to score more points and we did.

“Once Tom (Seabrook) scored that try in the corner we definitely felt like we had given ourselves a really good shot. It was actually quite calm messages, to be honest. We spoke about getting back into their half again and putting pressure on.

“They sort of shut up shop with 20 minutes to go, giving us a lot of kicks, so it was about securing that and then putting our game on the field… we came close. We put ourselves in the situation where we could have potentially should have won that game.”

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