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Hope on the horizon for Leinster as Cup final loss brings unexpected silver lining

By URC SA
England , United Kingdom - 25 May 2024; Leinster senior coach Jacques Nienaber acts as water carrier during the Investec Champions Cup final between Leinster and Toulouse at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England. (Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Investec Champions Cup final has become a Groundhog Day repeat of nightmare proportions for Leinster. However, their third successive narrow defeat in the decider could spell trouble for the teams contending in the United Rugby Championship, the primary league competition they compete in.

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The next few weeks will tell us whether Leinster have learned from past mistakes and will at least partially make up for the hurt they would have felt after being nearly men in the premier EPCR competition again and grab the silverware on offer in the URC.

The finals weekend in the EPCR competitions provided what we thought it would – a Hollywoodbets Sharks win in Friday night’s curtain-raiser followed by the drama and emotion of the real deal, the Investec Champions Cup final.

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Antoine Dupont is the GREATEST rugby player EVER – Leinster vs Toulouse reaction

Jim Hamilton and Bernard Jackman react to Toulouse beating Leinster in the final of the Investec Champions Cup and discuss Antoine Dupont who was named player of the match.

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Antoine Dupont is the GREATEST rugby player EVER – Leinster vs Toulouse reaction

Jim Hamilton and Bernard Jackman react to Toulouse beating Leinster in the final of the Investec Champions Cup and discuss Antoine Dupont who was named player of the match.

The Sharks belong in the Champions Cup. There’s no doubt about that. You don’t have as many World Cup-winning Springboks as the Durban franchise has on its books and not play for the main prize.

And the turnouts for the two games underlined the difference in standing between the two competitions – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was scarcely half full when the Sharks turned on a superb display of finals rugby to beat Glouchester in the Challenge Cup final, and it was bulging at the seams for the Toulouse/Leinster game.

The Sharks have hit their target by making the Champions Cup but their win in the “curtain-raiser” should have whet their appetite to be part of the main event next year. And if they had a chance to watch the Champions Cup final on television before flying out with their trophy, they will have had their appetites further whet, for it was a seismic occasion.

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Although there were only two tries across what turned out to be 100 minutes of rugby as the game went into extra time, the game did not disappoint. Well, at least not unless you are a Leinster fan. The Dublin team would have been described as deserved winners had a drop goal attempt in the final minutes succeeded instead of shaving the posts.

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That was how close it was between elation and despair for a Leinster team that has the bulk of the Ireland team in it.

But Toulouse turned the screws even though they lost Richie Arnold to a red card and because they had toughed it out over the first 80 minutes and then, like La Rochelle had done two years in a row against the same opponents, capitalised on their momentum at the end, it ended up with them being the deserved winners.

The Toulouse win means they have now taken a two Cup lead on Leinster in the ongoing battle to be recognised as Europe’s most successful team – the French side now have six wins to Leinster’s four.

Tellingly, Toulouse have won six of eight finals they have played in, while Leinster have appeared in more finals than anyone but have made a habit of failing at the final hurdle.

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Which cues Leinster’s next mission. Their hurt will be acute. Three finals in a row that went down to the wire and all of them lost. Most teams would struggle to come back from that kind of disappointment once, let alone three times. But Leinster must regroup quickly, for they still have a chance to do what they have failed to do in the last two seasons, which is win the URC.

Just as they will have nightmares remembering how La Rochelle celebrated their demise in the previous two seasons of the competition that morphed into being the URC after previously being the PRO14, so they will have unhappy recollections of Munster lording it over them after last year’s semifinal. And the year before that it was the Vodacom Bulls.

Leinster do have one advantage on last year. In the World Cup year, the knock-out games of both competitions, the Champions Cup and the URC, were played in successive weeks. Leinster, had they won the URC last year, would have played five playoff games in a row.

This time around it isn’t like that. On Saturday they play one final league game against a Connacht side that has much less to play for after being defeated by the DHL Stormers last time out. Leinster are at home, and while position in the top four is important, they can’t drop out of the top four. So they can afford to rest those players that need to be rested.

Fixture
United Rugby Championship
Leinster
33 - 7
Full-time
Connacht
All Stats and Data

Yes, the Connacht game is a quasi playoff game if Leinster want to get back into the top two or finish top of the log, but it is not a real playoff game like the one the one they had to play last year straight after the Champions Cup final. Or for that matter the year before, when they went straight into the Bulls game off the Champions Cup decider.

A full strength and motivated Leinster playing through the playoff phase will be hard to beat, and while they used to dominate the PRO14, they will be well aware that they have yet to win the URC, which is a stronger and more competitive competition now with the addition of the top South African teams.

They will want to keep their arch-rivals, Munster, from celebrating again, they also won’t want to concede anything to any of the South African teams. And most importantly, if they get the next few weeks right, they will at least partially salve the wounds of a third successive Champions Cup runners up medal.

For South Africans, the Sharks win on Friday night was great news as it means there will be at least three local sides in next season’s Champions Cup. The words “at least” are used because there is still a chance the Emirates Lions can join the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks.

With the Stormers assured of at least a seventh placed finish, and therefore qualification for the elite EPCR competition, a Lions win over them in Cape Town in the final game could mean the league season will end with three South African teams in the top seven.

Having four teams in the Champions Cup will be quite something for South African rugby and will help out the country on the map in a competition which was given a great showcase again in the epic Tottenham Hotspur Stadium final.

Investec Champions Cup final

Toulouse 31 Leinster 22

EPCR Challenge Cup final

Hollywoodbets Sharks 36 Gloucester 22

Final round Vodacom United Rugby Championship games:

Leinster v Connacht (Dublin, Friday 20.35)
Glasgow Warriors v Zebre (Glasgow, Friday 20.35)
DHL Stormers v Emirates Lions (Cape Town, Saturday 13.45)
Benetton v Edinburgh (Treviso, Saturday 14.00)
Scarlets v Dragons (Llanelli, Saturday 16.00)
Hollywoodbets Sharks v Vodacom Bulls (Durban, Saturday 16.10)
Munster v Ulster (Limerick, Saturday 18.15)
Cardiff v Ospreys (Cardiff, Saturday 18.30)

United Rugby Championship

P
W
L
D
PF
PA
PD
BP T
BP-7
BP
Total
1
Munster
17
12
4
1
63
2
Bulls
17
12
5
0
61
3
Leinster
17
12
5
0
60
4
Glasgow
17
12
5
0
60
5
Stormers
17
11
6
0
54
6
Ulster
17
11
6
0
53
7
Edinburgh
17
11
6
0
49
8
Benetton
17
10
6
1
49
9
Lions
17
9
8
0
49
10
Connacht
17
9
8
0
45
11
Ospreys
17
9
8
0
45
12
Cardiff Rugby
17
4
12
1
30
13
Sharks
17
4
13
0
25
14
Scarlets
17
4
13
0
22
15
Gwent Dragons
17
3
14
0
16
16
Zebre
17
1
15
1
15
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Comments

1 Comment
E
Ed the Duck 22 days ago

Total freekin Horlicks. Whoever wrote this doesn’t know their @rse from their elbow!!!!!

Top 2 means a home semi and that is a massive increase in prospects to make the final. Not to mention Connacht needing a win to have chance of making the top 8, Edinburgh are playing bennetton and lions may well lose to stormer so every possibility if they win in Dublin.

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