Defeats make doubters of us all. For players and coaches there will always be the nagging sense of a ball dropped or a thread left unpicked. For those of us outside the tent looking in there is the tendency to search for wider, more dramatic and concerning trends.
Place all that into the context of a first European final defeat for Leinster and it’s no surprise if the post-mortem on Saturday’s loss to Saracens breeds all sorts of theories and concerns.
There were concerns over Leinster prior to last weekend. Nothing major, or terminal, but the sense that the side hadn’t managed the peaks reached last time around and the related suspicion that the squad wasn’t quite as good.
Isa Nacewa had retired. Joey Carbery and Jordi Murphy had left for Munster and Ulster respectively. Now Sean O’Brien is poised to depart for London Irish and Jack McGrath is Belfast bound. It remains to be seen what Rob Kearney opts to do after the World Cup but the full-back may well be in his last few weeks as a Leinster player – the last week if Munster have their number in Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 semi-final.
That’s a lot of talent and knowledge to lose in the space of 12 months and, as Leo Cullen pointed out in Newcastle after the Sarries loss, Leinster are not in a position to pick ready-made replacements off the nearest tree. John Fogarty is another with his bags packed.
The province’s scrum coach will move up the ladder to an Ireland post this summer but he has no fears the club he leaves behind will not be, well, left behind.
“We’ve no fears for the players that are there,” he insisted. “We watch them develop every day. That’s something that I’m going to miss, watching them develop. They’ve moved on so quickly. You look at Josh van der Flier ... you could name them all. They’re quite experienced now but they started with one cap and got to two caps and then ten caps and on to 50 caps.
“Tadhg Furlong is still quite a young guy, but he got 100 caps for Leinster and he developed within Leinster. If we go plucking guys here and plonking them in here, guys like Tadhg don’t get through and that would be worse. We’re sticking to the plan.”
That means more academy players filtering through into the system and more game time for the likes of Max Deegan who bagged half-a-dozen minutes off the bench at St James’ Park. Fogarty is in awe of the youth at Leinster. James Ryan is the embodiment of a player hungry for information on where they went wrong and how they can better.
It’s that culture – and conveyor belt – that Leinster will continue to trust in, even when Jamison Gibson-Park and James Lowe become Irish-qualifed and the province will, theoretically, be able to dip lightly back into the free market.
"We felt we were on top in that half. We go 10-0 up and there are opportunities either side of half-time to put ourselves in a better position.
“That’s how we felt. A little bit of execution, some calls, it didn’t happen. Really small things and the game changes slightly. At 65 minutes or so they scored from that scrum and we were under a lot of pressure and they looked very dominant from there to the end of the game.”
Opinions differ and there are those who will say that Saracens’ power and execution was such that they would have beaten Leinster regardless of what happened either side of half-time when the province let points slip at both ends.
Maybe so, maybe not, but Leinster have lost before. Fogarty referenced the European semi-final defeat to Clermont Auvergne in 2017 and the heavy PRO12 defeat to Scarlets the same year as examples of similar lessons banked and learned.
Victories have offered up opportunities for advancement too. One of the first things Fogarty did after the Champions Cup final defeat of Racing 92 last year was to ask the front row why the strike in the scrum wasn’t quite up to scratch. Losing the latest decider may have been new. The introspection is much the same.