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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Cheika: no time for sentiment

Leinster coach Michael Cheika will not let the personal sentiment of moving on to Stade Francais, or the sadness over the loss of a raft of players to retirement and injury, deflect from the cold, hard business of winning the Magners League Grand Final on Saturday.

"The message is loud and clear. This game is about winning the final. It is not about anything else. I wouldn't want it to be any other way and neither would the players," he stated.

How will he feel at the end of his five-year tenure? "It is not about me. It is about the club, making the club better. It has always been about that," emphasised Cheika.

"If we can play well enough this weekend, it will make the club better again. That is what it's about. That is how we contribute. That is how we will be looked back on, anyway, for the contribution we made, whether as coaches or players."

The retirement of Malcolm O'Kelly, Bernard Jackman (forced out by injury) and Girvan Dempsey, the return to South Africa of CJ van der Linde and the end of Chris Keane's contract leave a big hole in the Leinster roster.

There will be time enough for sweet farewells for these players and the coaching trio of Cheika, backs consultant Alan Gaffney and defence coach Kurt McQuilkin after the final match of the season.

"Whether it is what you've been doing or what you're going to do, you have to put that stuff out of your head, and think about what you are doing," he continued. "It is all about getting yourself right to win each individual game. This is the biggest one, so we have to make sure we are exactly right for this match.

"At the end of the day, it is about performance. You can have all the home comforts and all the added incentives, but it is about performing on the night and making sure we are as close to our best as we possibly can be."

Typically, the redoubtable Cheika refused to see the exit of so many key personnel as the conclusion of an era. He has overseen the development of a club that is built to last.

"It is very much the start. There is a good foundation laid. The players have built an excellent culture at the club. Hopefully, we will put another building block into that on Saturday."

Sadly, captain Leo Cullen will have an operation on his shoulder today. Loosehead prop Cian Healy is described as "ill" and hasn't trained this week. Sean O'Brien was withdrawn from the squad following training yesterday, Cheika explaining, "he is just not ready to go yet".

The excuses are there everywhere, from players and coaches leaving, to the deflationary effect of the Heineken Cup demise. But, Cheika is looking at The Ospreys with tunnel vision.

"They are the most dangerous team in the competition. You have to look at the speed they've got with guys of the calibre of (Shane) Williams and (Tommy) Bowe out wide.

"They have the luxury of playing a quality player like James Hook in the centre because they have another number ten (Dan Biggar) who is pushing him there.

"They think they can get us in the tight-five. They will target us there because they think they can get some yards on us. I've seen our tight-five this week. They are focused on what is going to be the biggest battle of the season. It is all or nothing at this stage."

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