Serial trophy-winning coach Leo Cullen has admitted to a few nervous moments in his latest PRO14 final win as Leinster let slip a raft of try-scoring chances which enabled Munster to be level at half-time and only behind by seven points until a 69th-minute penalty from Ross Byrne pushed the margin out to a final score 16-6.
Munster never threatened a try themselves but they picked up some penalties and could have been ahead at the break had they done better than converting just one out of three attempts in the minutes leading up to the interval.
Mugged 24-19 by the Ospreys last weekend having led 19-3 entering the closing twelve minutes, Leinster had already been served a warning about not being on the money and they eventually got the job done versus Munster, Jack Conan’s 47th-minute try proving decisive in delivering a fourth successive league title final win for the kingpin Irish province.
“I’m delighted with the win,” enthused Leinster boss Cullen, reflecting on a victory that left the four-peat champions with a league record reading W65 D2 L11 over the four campaigns, an incredibly enviable 83.3 per cent win ratio.
“It was a strange sort of game. We started with really good intent, made a few different line breaks at stages in the first half and then suddenly you walk in at half-time at 6-6 and you’re like, ‘I don’t like the look of this’.
Familiar decade-old heartache for Munster, repetitive joy for Leinster. No wonder Leo Cullen sounded off about red-eyed pundits who had read the room completely wrong#LEIvMUN #PRO14https://t.co/j59Q3avugI
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 27, 2021
“You had a sort of sense that you may get mugged here at the end. For all the pressure and good play that we had, we weren’t converting that into scoreboard pressure in any real way. Even the six points Munster got, we got done side entry after scoring ourselves and then the other one Jordan (Larmour) gets done for not releasing the ball when he gets tackled.
“They were pretty soft in comparison because we created a fair few chances and were almost getting in the way (of each other) at different stages off the back of some of those good line breaks we created.
“To be fair to the players they were very composed at half-time and came out with a similar intent at the start of the second half. The only difference is that we actually got over for the try and were a little bit more patient in the build-up to that.
“That was pleasing to get seven points in front in a final with tricky conditions, it was going to be quite a big lead. Then credit to Ross, he nails the penalty late on. Overall, it’s a good win. There were times in and around half-time when we were nervous because we weren’t really converting line breaks into points. In finals that is the most important piece isn’t it, points. Thankfully we had enough at the end.”
When Leinster previously lifted the league trophy last September with a final win over Ulster, they were ambushed in Europe seven days later by Saracens, the Londoners coming to Aviva Stadium to do a clinical Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final number on them. Now it’s Toulon who are Dublin-bound six days after this latest league title triumph, Leinster hosting the crack French outfit on Friday at the RDS in the round of 16 and Cullen hasn’t forgotten what happened nearly seven months ago.
“Winning can make you a little bit week, soft, whatever it is, and we need to ensure that doesn’t happen for us next week… we started off the season winning the PRO14 and then we lost the following week to Saracens. It’s important that we don’t make that same mistake again.
“Saracens came to the Aviva that day with a good plan but maybe we were a little off that day. It’s important that we’re not a little bit off when we turn up here next Friday. It’s that balance now, enjoy the moment here for a few hours, short turnaround and turn the page into Toulon because it is a massive challenge against a star-studded squad.”
Whether Ireland captain Johnny Sexton will have a part to play for Leinster remains to be seen following his short-lived second-half cameo from the bench versus Munster. “He got a whack in the nose. He will go through his HIA inside and he will still follow the graduated return to play, so we will see how he comes through that.”
Report ?? https://t.co/OwfofdwBnm
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) March 27, 2021
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