By PA Sport Staff
Leo Cullen spoke of Leinster’s “devastation” as they were beaten 27-26 by La Rochelle in Saturday’s Champions Cup final at the Aviva Stadium.
The Irish province led 23-7 on the half hour mark after making a sensational start but they were unable to sustain the pace and the holders took charge after the interval to repeat the outcome of last season’s final.
Replacement prop Georges Henri Colombe scored the match-winning try in the 72nd minute to leave Leinster distraught in front of a home crowd in Dublin, mourning their third successive loss in a European final.
“Devastation is probably the word,” Cullen told BT Sport.
“The occasion, the amazing atmosphere in the crowd, both sets of supporters and two sets of players going full at it – everything you want in a final which goes down to one point. Unfortunately we’re the losers.
“We started the game really well. We could have been further in front. I thought we gave up a couple of softish tries. In the second-half although we had the lead we struggled to get out of that end of the field.
“La Rochelle got over in the end and you’ve got give them a huge amount of credit. Bitterly disappointing.
“It was two really good teams going at it and it was always going to go down to little moments.
“We were so close and at the end we just lacked a little bit of composure. It’s an agonising defeat. All the players were here in front of their friends and family, so it’s hard one.
“It’s painful when you reach this point and you know it means so much to everybody. We just haven’t quite been good enough to finish the job.”
La Rochelle head coach Ronan O’Gara revealed that during his half-time talk he reminded his players of Leinster’s recent record in Champions Cup finals, including last season when the rivals clashed in Marseille.
“It’s fantastic. It’s an incredibly special day at Lansdowne Road, a very special ground. It was a very difficult task that got even more difficult at 17-0!” O’Gara said.
“There was a bit of me going at half-time ‘is my speech going to be about playing for pride or do we have a chance’? 23-14 felt like a great half-time result for us.
⭐️⭐️@StadeRochelais are two time #HeinekenChampionsCup Champions 🏆 pic.twitter.com/NgrtnvMKrW
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) May 20, 2023
“One of the staff reminded me we were minus eight in Marseille and today we were minus nine, so we built a little story about that to get the boys pumping.
“We had the internal energy and we had a great grip on the second-half. We won the hard way which is very, very pleasing.
“Unfortunately for the opponents, they haven’t got over the line in a long, long time, so that was always going to play.
“Of course it is (a psychological thing for Leinster) but it’s not respectful for me to go there. I was a coach grasping at straws trying to give his team hope at half-time, you have to tap into that.”