The cruelty of European rugby was summed up in Leinster's one-point defeat to La Rochelle, as they remain trophy-less for a second season, according to Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll.
Leo Cullen's side agonisingly lost by a single point to La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup final on Saturday. This came a week after narrowly losing to Munster by a last minute drop goal in the United Rugby Championship semi final.
The back-to-back losses, two of only three losses since last year's European final, has meant that the boys in blue will finish the year with only an irish shield in their trophy cabinet for the second year running.
Since 2018, Leinster have won four Pro14 titles and one Champions Cup, however they have been trophy-less since the 2021 Pro14 final.
In this time, they have come up short in Europe in three finals, and one semi-final, coming ever-so-close to adding the elusive fifth star to their jersey.
While Leinster legend Brian O'Driscoll feels that the current squad are better than his decorated team on 2011/12, which had won three European Cups by that stage, he acknowledged that without trophies, they cannot be considered one of the great sides.
Small margins are ramped up in European knockouts
Leinster were far and away the best team in Europe and the URC from the start of the season right up until their respective heartbreaking defeats.
While the South African sides have added some much needed competitiveness to the URC, as well as adding a different dimension to the Champions Cup, O'Driscoll believes there is nothing comparable to the rise in competition and difficulty found in European Cup semi finals and finals.
"It's always been the case that it changes dramatically more often than not at semi-final and then the final," O'Driscoll said. "To get to that crescendo is significant.
"It's not an extra 10%, it's like an extra 25% on other knockout stages. Then again it's a one point loss, it was a two point loss last year.
"Some will argue that La Rochelle should have possibly won it by more considering how the game evolved in the second half, when they did come back into it and the momentum and all the play was with them.
"Yet, the nip and tuck of those close finals and big games, it's one key decision, one moment of bravery, one moment of significance, one laps in concentration. That is the margin. That's where it is at elite level sport. Rugby, any other sport.
"That doesn't make it any more palatable, but it's being very clear and concise in that that most needy moment is where legendary status and legacies are built."
'It is so cruel' for Leinster
O'Driscoll stressed the quality in the current Leinster squad. However, in spite of this depth of greatness, O'Driscoll feels they needed to win the Champions Cup this year to end the Johnny Sexton and Stuart Lancaster era as a truly great team.
"The terrible thing is this Leinster team can't be considered a great team," O'Driscoll said. "They can't because they don't have the trophies to show for it, which doesn't seem right.
"In my eyes, it's the best Leinster team that I've seen. Our team was very good back in 2011/12, but consistently, across the board, the quality, the depth of squad, for me this is a better Leinster team.
"Yet, people will not, in time, look back and go, 'no you're wrong there', because they couldn't get it done. But we could also have lost the final in '09, we could have lost in '11 to Northampton, and I would be sitting here having a totally different conversation.
"It's funny how fickle and how slight things can move and scenarios can unfold, and history can be made on the back of the most minute of moments.
"It is so cruel and brilliant if you're on the right side of it."
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