The frustration Leinster players and coaches felt after last weekend was absolute. That stuff is hard to internalise. You can’t have enough of those stars on your shirt.
But you never come out after losing a European Cup final insisting you deserved to win when the score says differently.
But Leinster could easily have won in Newcastle last Saturday and Leo Cullen has got to live with the reality of knowing that too.
You lose together and you don’t point fingers. On Civvy Street, everyone is saying to the scrum-half: ‘Luke, why aren’t you kicking that ball dead?’
And to the centre: ‘Garry, you’ve got a monster overlap outside’. That doesn’t happen in a proper professional dressing room.
At half-time last Saturday, the Leinster management is reeling too, remember. That was a difficult moment.
They had ceded all the psychological momentum in the space of two minutes.
The coaches feel that wallop hard. One moment they are relying on their prepared notes, 10-3 up, couldn’t be going much better, this is where we planned to be.
Now they are in a different space. Even though it’s a zero game, that crucial motivation has slipped out of their grasp. The road ahead has now become a hill.
But there’s a second half to prepare for. And the only thing a coach (or player, for that matter) can do zilch about is the past. There’s a time and a place to discuss that.
For sure, there is meat there for during the week. Was it one of those ‘what if’ moments that form the debate between player and coach afterwards?
The coach doesn’t tell the player he was wrong, he invites him to lay out the rationale for the decision, for discussion and examination.
Judging on experience, I presume McGrath’s decision not to end the first half on his terms was a snap call to go for the jugular.
It’s something I’ve been thinking a bit about this week. There’s a sea change in philosophy these days away from the old cup rugby mentality of building the score, three points at a time.
In my time, Munster were as good as anybody to push the envelope if they got a sniff, but we also knew the value of three points.
Three points is worth more than half a try, and we know how difficult tries are to get.
So kick the ball over the bar. I am not pointing the finger at Leinster in this regard, but pointing out an example of not trying to be too clever in the wrong moments. This was a one-off cup final, and there were moments.
At that level, you can’t leave 14 points — and at a stretch 21 points — out there.
The Ringrose moment after half time — from every angle, had he passed wide, it would have been harder not to score. It was that good a chance. Not a potential chance, a gilt-edged chance.
But let’s not get hung up again on who’s fault it was. I am talking about cast-iron opportunities by top-level sportspeople. Communication may be the solution to it going forward, but on the day that’s a big seven points blown at a critical stage.
And it would have been a real hammer blow for Saracens who had pulled it back from 10-0 down to draw level. Now to be back in a hole again, there’s only so many times you can reset your mind to go again.
All of which puts Leinster in an interesting position heading into tomorrow’s PRO14 semi-final at home to Munster. Being at home is important, but there will be those lingering doubts now, players included.
As good as they were in Newcastle, they didn’t get over the line. However, there is an opportunity here to put these Munster lads properly back in their box now. To kill the debate about narrowing gaps and all that. To finish the campaign with a good taste in their mouths.
It won’t have been an especially poor season if Munster come up shy tomorrow, but perception trumps reality and losing to Leinster will leave a negative taste heading into the summer.
After that, quite a bit will depend on what the Munster management team looks like. The players look strong to me. They need a bit of continuity and a bit of ‘follow-us’ mentality heading into a new season.
Mike Prendergast is a name that has been doing the rounds a lot in the French media in recent weeks, from Toulon to Racing 92. One of those is nearly done I would say, and how much of a missed opportunity that is for Munster in terms of a new backs coach is in the realm of conjecture.
He likes the 2-4-2 system, and he has a level of detail in his work that indicates he’s a great catch for whoever secures his signature.
But at this moment, that looks unlikely to be his native Munster. Other names are being bandied about, but hopefully the Munster brain trust has a clear vision in place for what they are doing and where they are going.
And that works out just fine. Munster shouldn’t be going native for native’s sake. They need to go after the best. Munster people are sick of looking at blue jerseys in finals — and winning. Don’t worry, that still applies.
The indication is that Joey Carbery returns at 10 for the visitors. When Carbery is fit, we have seen what he brings — that optimism, that excitement, that anything-can-happen mentality.
He is youthful, energetic, and brings a lot of what has been missing from Munster in recent months.
He is not a magic wand, but there is considerably less chance of Munster doing something unexpected when he’s not around. There’s a strategy to his game, but there’s also an individual brilliance to what he brings.
Richie Mo’unga is a bit like him here at the Crusaders. He brings that little bit of whizz and dash to the stage. We put 45 points on the Bulls last week. We were on. What does ‘on’ look like? You sit in a Capetown café and ponder that dilemma. How do we get to there every week, or at least more often than not? Where the combination of physical and mental attributes produces a consistently high-level performance.
Here’s the funny thing. Five tries were scored by backs last week and none of them were in our game plan. Go figure that. It was just individual brilliance. Leo Cullen knows as well as anyone that on another day, the reverse happens. C’est la vie.
Sevu Reece picked up a hat-trick of tries in Pretoria. His work-rate is phenomenal and he is a great example to any outside back.
He has to be a legitimate World Cup bolter option now for Steven Hansen and the All Blacks, but if things had worked out differently, he might be in Connacht doing his stuff if that contract had been pursued.
It wasn’t a Connacht decision not to take him, but they must look at his development now and wonder. He is a special person and a special player from what I see every day.
Fate can intervene in many different forms.
I think sometimes as coaches we have to accept that we don’t control the strings all of the time.