Sexton: Your decisions are as good as they are in hindsight

The received wisdom for Leinster’s loss was poles apart in the moments after Saturday’s final whistle and in the hours that followed when thousands of post-mortems had been undertaken in the pubs and eateries around Newcastle.

The immediate emotion was that this team, normally so ruthless, had let the game slip from their grasp in the eight minutes before and then after half-time when Saracens restored parity from ten points down and the reigning champions failed to push on again afterward.

By close of business in St James’ Park later that night, there was a feeling that, well, Sarries would likely have come back anyway.

With time to ponder, many had come to the conclusion that the English side had just been too damn powerful and too bloody good.

That Leinster would have broken some way, somehow, sometime anyway.

It’s a persuasive argument.

The stats certainly back it up. Saracens were far more incisive in attack and their defence was monstrous and parsimonious with each and every yard conceded.

They were much more dominant in the tackle on both sides of the ball and their setpiece was stronger too.

All of which is to ignore Leinster’s history of obduracy. Think, for example, of the quarter-final they won against Clermont at the RDS in 2010, or the semi-final when they pipped the same opposition in a Bordeaux semi-final two years later.

Look at the final they came through 12 months ago against Racing 92 in Bilbao when they didn’t lead until 90 seconds from the end. You could argue that Leinster should have lost all three of those games.

That they were steeped to win even one of them.

They were mullered physically for long periods each and every time ... and still pulled through.

There was no reason why that couldn’t have happened on Saturday.

In a parallel universe Leinster are champions right now, their victory forged on a gutsy call to attack Sarries on the brink of half-time and claim a try off it.

The reality here is different. If defeat has a thousand fathers then the one paying most of the child support in the hours immediately after the final whistle was Luke McGrath’s decision to box kick rather than seek touch as the clock struck red for half-time.

From 10-0 to the good on 32 minutes, Leinster were back at square one.

The faces on Jonathan Sexton and Sean O’Brien as they walked off for the interval didn’t disguise their inner feelings but it was the poor execution from the men in blue rather than the initial decision to attack that soured them most.

“Your decisions are as good as they are in hindsight,” said Sexton.

“We made a ballsy decision when we were 3-0 up to go for a scrum and not take the three points; it was a great decision because we scored off it.

It’s not a good decision to box-kick it when you cough up a 10-3 lead. In the period just before and after half-time, when we had two or three chances to score, we were down in their 22 pounding away at their line. They stole the ball a couple of times and then we didn’t take advantage of an overlap, we coughed up a good ball on the deck. And obviously, that 20-minute period was crucial.

None of this happened in splendid isolation.

If Leinster fluffed their lines then Saracens must take enormous credit for scrambling their brains and ensuring that lines learned by rote suddenly turned into tongue twisters.

Leinster have routinely sought to turn the screw on opponents in those moments before the break. So have Ireland.

Time and again that tactic has worked for both teams so it seems selective now to slam the exact same thought process.

“Tadhg (Furlong) said at the start of the season that we have to attack the tournament and that’s the mindset we had,” said Luke McGrath.

“We had to attack Saracens because if you sit back and let them attack you then they’ll score a lot of points.

“They showed their class out there. It’s a fairly gutted changing room at the moment, but it’s important we have to regroup now because we’ve a massive game against Munster (in the PRO14 semi-final) next week.”

Don’t expect this to change anything.

It shouldn’t. If Leinster find themselves seven points up approaching the interval at the RDS next Saturday, and with the chance to land another punch or kick to touch, there will be no decision to take.

It is what they have done. It is who they are. The only regret this time is that they didn’t do it better.

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