IT SAYS much about Leinster’s performance in defeating the powerhouse of European rugby that venerable Toulouse coach Guy Noves admitted his side had been taught a lesson.
Joe Schmidt, his opposite number, however, has one more hurdle to clear before he savours a first trophy in his debut season as a head coach and he found enough in a poor start fromLeinster to keep his players on their toes in the run-in to the campaign.
“This match will serve as a lesson to us for the future,” admitted Noves, who has steered Toulouse for the past 19 seasons and delivered the club four European titles.
“We had issues with our rucks, we didn’t know how to deal with different situations and I would say that, despite, two tries, Leinster knew how to capitalise on our mistakes and theydeserved their win.
“We had difficulty imposing ourselves whereas Leinster were very capable of imposing themselves as a team. The two teams gave their all, even to the point of exhaustion.
“What I do know is that tomorrow the sun will shine again.
“We played an extremely important match today. We may have lost but they are the former champions, it was a great match in Toulouse, a great match here and they knew how to beat us today.”
Schmidt pointed to an opening five minutes which saw Leinster commit many mistakes and hand their rivals a 7-0 lead as evidence for the need to improve.
“We’ll be pretty self-critical because I think we started slowly and I don’t think that was good enough for us.
“But the character that we showed, to give Toulouse a little bit of a headstart and then get back into the game I think was fantastic.
“There are obviously things that we will look to improve on – we missed our first two lineouts and got free-kicked in our first scrum feed and that allows them a foothold into the game.
“Then, to be caught half asleep with the rebound off the upright was really disappointing, but it’s hard to stay too grumpy with the team when they showed the character that they did.”
Schmidt identified Cian Healy’s burst upfield in the 53rd minute as Leinster trailed 19-20 as “one of the key turning points” in the match.
It was followed by Healy’s exit with a blood injury with his replacement in the front row Heinke Van der Merwe contributing to a powerful Leinster scrum on the Toulouse put-in that garnered a penalty from Jonathan Sexton.
“Cian copped a bit of a hit and we replaced him. Heinke Van Der Merwe came on and certainly helped at the next scrum when we got the penalty.
” So it was the two loosehead props tag-teaming in there to give us just that little edge when we needed it probably could be counted as the swinging of the match from them to us.”
Schmidt praised his squad for the way they prepared for the semi-final and then executed his gameplan.
“It doesn’t just arrive. We started working on Toulouse two weeks ago and worked out what we’d like to do against them.
“Then this Monday just gone we worked hard about how we could attack them and what we were going to have to do to stay in the game and then worked our way through the week.
“The players have worked incredibly hard. You do need a little bit of luck but there wasn’t too much luck in that performance. There was a heck of a lot of heart, soul and physical effort and that endeavour was rewarded with the result in the end.”
As to whether this was the most satisfying performance of the season to date, the Leinster head coach replied: “The last one’s always the most satisfying but that one more than others.
“After the Leicester (quarter-final), not one guy celebrated.
“I thought I saw a couple of guys lift their arms today and that’s probably a measure of how tough that was and how delighted we were to get through that.
“But the players are driven to go one more step.
“We’re there with a chance, it’s so tough to get back there and you don’t want to waste the opportunity.
“I know that there’s some real resolve.”
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