There were a dozen minutes still to play when Owen Farrell sent his second conversion through the posts and presented Leinster with a 10-point deficit in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final.
It was a daunting, if not insurmountable, ask, but the manner in which Saracens shut them down from that point on was astonishing in its implacability. Leinster never looked like scoring. Not just that, they struggled mightily just to get out of their own 22.
The English side’s defence had been superb all day. Leinster, usually so free-scoring and so creative with ball in hand, were stumped time and again but Jack Conan believes credit to the winners should be complemented with some blame closer to home.
“We didn’t take our opportunities,” the back row admitted. “Our game management at times wasn’t where it needed to be. They took their chances really well and we didn’t. It’s the smallest of margins at this level and, credit to Saracens, they were fantastic. They’re brutal for 80 minutes, they kept on going, kept on pushing us. We probably just didn’t show up at times, didn’t play the Leinster rugby that got us to the final.”
An interesting thought. In what way?
“Probably our attack,” he explained. “We kind of pride ourselves on our varied attack that’s unpredictable. We dominate the gain line, I don’t think we got the right balance of it.
“We were a bit too predictable at times. They had some big physical units out there and they won a lot of the collisions so it was kind of hard to play, so, yeah, it was just one of those days, unfortunately.”
It’s a fair point. Leinster’s ability to stack multiple phases on top of each other has been a key weapon in their arsenal in recent seasons yet Saracens were rarely stretched by it and actually countered it with some dominant defending.
The game swung on it’s axis in the run-up to half-time when the English side turned a 10-0 deficit into a scoreboard displaying parity by half-time and it was a 10-minute spell that began with two huge hits on Conan himself and Jonathan Sexton by Alex Lozowski and George Kruis.
Both of them were landed miles behind the gain line.
“When they get a rumble on and you’re losing collisions and going backwards, it’s really, really difficult to stop them. I thought it was a valiant effort for 80 minutes, even those last 10, 15 when our backs were against the wall.
“I don’t think we stopped playing, I just don’t think we were... well, I don’t think we deserved it to be fair, we weren’t good enough.”
Leinster’s failure to hang on to that double-digit advantage through to half-time will always be singled out as the would-a, could-a, should-a moment but there is another angle from which to view this decider.
Saracens could well have been awarded a penalty try and they left another handful of scoring opportunities behind them too. It could, on another day, have been much more comfortable than just 20-10.
It is a win that confirms Saracens as the market leaders in Europe, given it is a third title in four years, but there is no danger of Leinster shirking from the task of knocking them off their perch in the years to come.
“Please god, this time next year we’ll be back in this scenario in Marseille,” said Conan.
“So we’ll regroup and the start of next year we’ll set our eyes on May 11 or 12 or whatever it is and get back into another European final and get that fifth star.
“I’ve absolutely no doubt about that. It’s tough obviously losing the likes of Seanie (O’Brien) in a few weeks.
“He won’t be here but there are going to be other lads that are going to step up, take the mantle and add to the team and bring their own touch. Leinster is a special place and we’ve got a lot of growing to do, but I think we’ll be better for it.”