Leinster’s European headaches

Charlie Talbot-Smith
13 May 2019

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Leinster’s shot at European history was dashed on Saturday at St James’ Park.

Saracens emerged 20-10 victors in a brutal encounter to hand Leinster their first-ever defeat in a European Cup final.

The last four times the boys in blue had made it all the way to the showpiece final, they had emerged victorious.

The defending Guinness PRO14 champions now need to roll up their sleeves and go again this coming weekend as the Final Series continues on the domestic front.

Leinster face perennial provincial rivals Munster at the RDS on Saturday, looking to book their spot back in the league final at Celtic Park.

But if the history books are anything to go by, then Leo Cullen’s men will need to guard against a European hangover.

Their record after their four previous European finals, even they won each one, does not make for particularly pretty reading.

2018

Last year, Leinster claimed a fourth European crown with a last-gasp 15-12 win over Racing 92 in Bilbao.

They had to dig so deep to secure that victory and it showed a week later when they against hosted Munster in the semi-final at the RDS.

Leo Cullen’s men, chasing the double, surged into an early lead thanks to Jack Conan’s try – created by the irrepressible James Lowe.

But thereafter, they were made to dig very deep as Munster came roaring back at them.

Keith Earls and Gerbrandt Grobler both crossed for the Munstermen as a below-par Leinster – without Jonathan Sexton – held on by the skin of their teeth for a 16-15 win.

2012

Six years before that was Leinster’s last European crown, won in style by downing Ulster 41-14 in Edinburgh.

Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy were the stars that day in victory, their second in a row at Europe’s top table and their third in four years.

But eight days later, attentions were turned to the league final and a clash with the Ospreys.

And once again, Leinster could not repeat their heroics as Shane Williams inspired the Welsh region to a famous 31-30 win.

Williams celebrates the perfect ending to his professional career

Williams celebrates the perfect ending to his professional career

The key moment was Dan Biggar’s last-gasp conversion of Williams’ second try of the day and that was enough to down Leinster, for whom Isa Nacewa had earlier notched a double.

2011

The 2011 European title is probably the most famous of Leinster’s four – coming as it did in such dramatic fashion.

Down 22-6 at half-time to Northampton Saints in Cardiff, Sexton then inspired one of the great comebacks in a 33-22 victory.

The fly-half rallied his troops at half-time with an inspiring speech, then scored 28 of their 33 points himself to claim the trophy.

But once again, having gone to the well too many times, they came unstuck a week later in the league final.

Once again, it was Munster who lay in wait and they produced a deserved 19-9 victory that gave them what remain their most recent league crown.

Munster outscored their provincial rivals by three tries to nil at Thomond Park, David Wallace the man of the match as Leinster could not securer the double.

2009

Leinster’s first European crown was a different story, however.

The play-offs were yet to be introduced domestically, and Munster stormed to the league crown.

The title was wrapped up by the end of April, meaning Leinster could focus on their upcoming date with destiny in Europe in May.

And Michael Cheika’s side did just that, Rocky Elsom the star as they downed Leicester Tigers 19-16 to end their long way for European silverware.

The Guinness PRO14 Final is one of the most entertaining games in the rugby calendar and takes place in Glasgow’s Celtic Park on May 25. Tickets start at just £25 for adults, £1 for kids. Visit www.pro14rugby.org/finaltickets

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