herald

Thursday 17 April 2014

Leinster must try to avoid scarlets dogfight

YOU wouldn't know Leinster were on the cusp of extinction from the Heineken Cup - their Heineken Cup - as Kevin McLaughlin leisurely reclined in his chair.

Wearing a smile as wide as the gap between Clermont Auvergne and the champions in Pool Five, McLaughlin has the look of a man who relishes the unknown.

"We are looking at January as the make-or-break month for the team," he said.

"We have been at the top of Europe for the last couple of years. We want to be there. It becomes harder every year because teams want to get on top of you.

"We've learned that this year where Clermont outfought us in a couple of games. We've put ourselves in this position. Hopefully, it will be a case of our season starting.

"We desperately don't want it to end. We have never been in this tight a situation in my time at Leinster. There is definitely an element of extra pressure there. No doubt," he said.

According to Jamie Heaslip, Cian Healy likes to say "pressure is for tyres". The truth is pressure is for champions. Leinster know they have to harvest five points from The Scarlets on Saturday or they are staring down the barrel of oblivion.

"I wouldn't say winning the match is irrelevant. Almost (irrelevant). Yeah. Fair enough. We are going to go out to win the game and play at a high intensity. Hopefully, the tries will flow from that," said McLaughlin.

The return of the Lionised Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald last week and Isa Nacewa, Richardt Strauss, Dave Kearney and Eoin O'Malley transforms the cutting edge.

"I think our attack has definitely sharpened up a little bit. We are functioning better. The injured guys coming back in make a big difference. We are playing with more confidence and there is no reason why we can't score four tries at the weekend," he offered.

There is every reason to believe that The Scarlets could be coming here to make up the numbers. They are out of Europe already with a pitiful two points from four rounds.



Steamrolled

No matter what Guy Easterby says about his brother Simon's pride in the Scarlets jersey as the Welsh club's coach, their motivation had to be greater in Ravenhill last Friday, as the second-placed club in the PRO12 League, and they were steamrolled there.

Leinster's work at the breakdown was clean and quick in Edinburgh last Friday. They have to generate the same smooth service for the half-backs.

"They (Scarlets) are a team that try and create scraps. They try and kick the ball out at the breakdown. They have a lot of strays and create a mess there, just make it difficult for you to play," reflected McLaughlin.

"If you let them make it difficult for you, it can be a dogfight. We don't want that. Getting the breakdown right is going to be absolutely key and keeping quick tempo, keeping quick ball."

McLaughlin doesn't have the luxury of presuming what The Scarlets will do. He has to concentrate on preparing well today or feel the fear of Saturday's hangover.

"There is an element of the season is starting now or almost ending now. As a team, obviously, we don't like the thought of almost being out of Europe in January.

"We are going to do everything in our power to stop it. It wouldn't be the end of the world either. We've still got a really good squad.

"We're in third-place in the Rabo League. We're going well in that. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. We'll move on. We'll stay positive."

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