Leinster’s decision not to kick the ball out at the end of the first half was seen as a huge moment in the Champions Cup final – but Luke Fitzgerald doesn’t think it was as significant as some are making out.
With Leinster leading 10-3, the clock ticked past 40 minutes following a tense and tight first half. Leinster scrum-half Luke McGrath had possession around the half-way line and rather than kick the ball into the stand to end the opening half, he opted for a box-kick into Saracens territory.
The chase wasn’t quick enough to disrupt or win possession and Billy Vunipola fielded the ball outside his 22, before Leinster were penalised at the breakdown. Saracens worked the ball down the field and scored a try to tie the game and never trailed again en route to a 20-10 win.
Many questioned Leinster’s decision-making after the tough defeat as a result, but speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie’s rugby podcast, Fitzgerald defended McGrath’s kick – and added that the thought-process behind it was sound.
“I think what happened reflects more on the chasing,” Fitzgerald said.
“I didn’t think they [the chasers] took off right away. It was a good kick. It was perfect where it went. There was good height on it but I thought the chase was a little laboured and then it doesn’t look like a good kick.”
“I think everyone is looking at the wrong thing,” Fitzgerald continued.
“I thought there were a few things that were wrong with the kick. I thought the chase was poor and the tackle was poor. If you had chased it correctly, you could have knocked it back. There are a lot of good things that could have happened. At the end of the day, we always talk about territory. That was 25m out from their line, that is not a bad place to be.”
After the game, Johnny Sexton said that Leinster were looking to increase their lead to two-scores by keeping the ball alive at the end of the half. Fitzgerald agreed with Sexton’s logic and thinks that pinning Leinster’s defeat to one moment is wrong.
“My view is that Leinster have been so good the last two years because they have attacked,” Fitzgerald added.
“They saw an opportunity. They were just over the half-way line. I don’t see how the game has hinged on this one moment. Rob Kearney got a bit unlucky, I wouldn’t blame him for where he got caught. It was really awkward and there was no way he was getting out of there.
“It was 10-3 and Leinster had held onto the ball for a long period. If they make a good tackle on Vunipola there, the ball is just outside the 22. Then Leinster are going forward, Saracens are going back. Maybe you get a good clean-out or they play one more phase and you get a turnover. There are a lot of things that could happen. There were 80 minutes in this game and that was one moment.
“I would more be looking at the things that happened around it.”
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