THE only person to benefit this weekend was Leinster’s incoming coach Joe Schmidt.
The jolly man from Woodville on New Zealand’s north island will leave newly crowned first-time French kingpins Clermont- Auvergne as a champion and arrive at a Leinster club short of silverware thanks to their Heineken Cup semi-final and Magners League final shortcomings.
As Michael Cheika shunned the temptation to turn all “soppy” at his leaving of Leinster, Schmidt finally shed the tag of the tortured as Clermont found their “nirvana” at the eleventh time of asking.
The contrast couldn’t have been starker. The Australian Cheika has built Leinster into a formidable organisation from toe-tohead all season, but we couldn’t convert enough points to put them under pressure.”
The Achilles heel was Leinster’s propensity to spill more ball than British Petroleum has oil in pursuit of improving their position.
“We lost the ball far too much. We ended up playing the majority of the first half in our own half or 40 metres from our try line and that pressure eventually told.
“There are no excuses. This is what he have become, the team that can say ‘we didn’t play well. We’ll take it on the chin. We gotta get better’.
“We know we can do it. But, we didn’t bring our A-Game when we needed to bring it,” he concluded.
Stand-in captain Shane Jennings was disgruntled and clearly angered at what he sensed was the unsolved crime for not playing to the standards demanded.
“It doesn’t feel good. We didn’t play well. If they play a bit and beat us, it can sometimes be easier to accept,” he seethed. “We don’t think we did ourselves justice.
We probably weren’t let. That is credit to them. They deserve their win. “We weren’t in control of the game. We didn’t respect the ball as we should have, especially against the Ospreys because they are too good.
“When you are inconsistent against a good team, you are not going to get sustained pressure on them. “That is what we needed to do. And we didn’t do it.”
Nonetheless, Jennings did pause long enough to consider the journey made from Cheika’s appearance as a raw and relatively unknown coach five years ago.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “We did well throughout the year. Guys like Chris Keane and Simon Keogh are moving on.
“Al (Gaffney) is moving away from the Leinster set-up, and Kurt (McQuilkin). CJ (van der Linde) is moving back to South Africa.
“Bernard’s (Jackman) been great. Girv (Dempsey) and Mal (O’Kelly) have got all the attention and, obviously, Cheiks. He has instilled a culture that wasn’t here before. “He deserves a lot of credit. He won’t take the credit. He’ll pass it on to his staff.
He works, probably, harder than everyone else. “It is a good way to show example. He deserves an awful lot of credit. I think Stade are getting a very good coach and a good guy.”
What odds Leinster and Stade Francais for the 2011 Heineken Cup final? Then again, what odds Leinster and Clermont-Auvergne? only to leave it momentarily locked in neutral.
Schmidt, in union with head coach Vern Cotter, had overseen three straight falls at the final fence only to leave Clermont in a state of ecstasy by virtue of their shatteringof Perpignan at Stade de France on Saturday evening.
It is a process of learning, a journey of self-discovery that can only benefit his new employers. The fact that Leinster fell short in the grand final also affords Schmidt room for manoeuvre.
For Cheika, the hurt was apparent on his face as he gave a full and frank summary of how and where Leinster failed to deliver a trophy for the third straight season.
“We left a few too many loose ends for this level of football,” he said. “We are disappointed we didn’t play well enough in a final. In these games, you have to take your opportunities. We had enough opportunities in general, around the field, to build some pressure on the opposition that we didn’t take.
“When we eased that pressure tap off the opposition, they took advantage and took their chances. That is the difference.” The Ospreys were certainly ruthless in exposing Gordon D’Arcy’s inside shoulder for Andrew Bishop’s initial thrust that created
Tommy Bowe’s 16th-minute try and putting Lee Byrne in the right spot to shoot into the right corner for the second. It was all the breathing space the Ospreys required to keep Leinster and the accurate Jonathan Sexton at a safe distance.
“We showed lots of ‘ticker’. We stayed in the game. We weren’t playing well. We tried to get within one score – couldn’t do it. We couldn’t get the try to get us past them,” insisted Cheika.
“They took their opportunities when they came. Early on, we had a fair bit of pressure on them. When we released that pressure, they were able to convert points. “When they released pressure off us, we weren’t able to convert that into try-scoring points. We stayed tough, like we have