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The 'most important' thing Leo Cullen said post-game about Leinster

By Liam Heagney
Jack Conan celebrates Leinster winning a late penalty versus Northampton (Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

There were multiple tangents and diversions at the post-game 15-minute Leinster media briefing on Saturday night at Croke Park. Leo Cullen’s positive sense of shock that the semi-final fixture at the headquarters of the GAA sold out 82,300 tickets so quickly.

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Jamison Gibson-Park and his intuitive relationship with his old New Zealand Maori mucker, the hat-trick-scoring James Lowe. Skipper Caelan Doris and that last-minute penalty-winning turnover which was the final attack in the nerve-shredding Northampton comeback.

There was even the frivolous revelation that Garry Ringrose is a Spurs fan, as is Cullen’s father (Cullen himself is Everton), and that the May 25 final at the home of Tottenham should be quite the hoot for them.

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And yet, the most important thing that was said over the course of the set-piece was aired very early doors, the coach’s insistence that Leinster understand they can be better and that their focus was now much heightened towards being the best version of themselves come the final day.

That was a very different semi-final reflection compared to the last two years and it just might be the nudge that shunts them over the line and onto the showpiece trophy podium rather than standing glumly with the cup in enemy hands.

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

Think about it: Toulouse were swatted aside in the past two semi-finals, Leinster revelling in polished 41-22 and 40-17 Aviva Stadium victories that ultimately were of no use in the ensuing deciders where arm wrestles were lost by wafer-thin scorelines to La Rochelle.

There was no semi-final comfort this time around. Instead, Leinster were unable to add to their 20-3, 44th-minute advantage and were left clinging to a narrow 20-17 success.

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So queasy were they with the clock on the cusp of the full 80 that out-half Ross Byrne had to race to a ruck and play emergency scrum-half, digging away to finally ferret the ball out and then toss it back for his brother Harry to belt into the stands and prompt the shrill final whistle of referee Mathieu Raynal.

It sounded messy and it was. But there’s the rub; Leinster survived the scare and not playing as well as they can should be the perfect spur for them to now produce the polish in London in three weeks.

“Listen, we have done enough to get through,” enthused Cullen, countering the somewhat downbeat atmosphere of the post-game media post-mortem. “We know we can be better and that is the bit we need to go after over the next few weeks….

“But listen, we’re delighted… listen, we’re relieved to get through, we’re delighted to get through and we just need to focus on improving our game so we are playing our best game for the final.

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“There are plenty of parts we can improve on but ultimately the most important part is to get through.”

How right he was. You can’t win the cup in the semi-final by being all bells and whistles, as they have painfully found out in recent seasons.

It’s simply a fixture to get you into the decider and having had their magic restricted this time around by the Saints, unlike in 2022 and 2023 versus Toulouse when they swash buckled their way through, they very much know their game must improve if they are to lift the trophy.

In sharp contrast to what took place in recent weeks, when their stars were cotton wooled while the stiffs were packed off to get trounced in back-to-back URC matches in South Africa, positive league performances with their best players are on the agenda heading into the Champions final.

“There is plenty of learning there for our guys. Not playing in the last few weeks, does that have an effect? I don’t know,” pondered Cullen. “We need to concentrate on the URC for the next couple of weeks. We will be picking strong teams.”

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