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Wednesday 13 December 2017

'every minute is important'

Leinster boss O'Connor bracing for battle in Pool 2

You couldn't blame Leinster for holding a deep sense of foreboding around what is about to transpire on the opening weekend of the European Rugby Champions Cup.

Well, maybe, this is the case for the supporters and all of us on the outside looking in, not so much the coaches and players, whose job it is to turn sceptics into believers.

Certainly, coach Matt O'Connor has not grasped at the closest available straw which would be inscribed with two words: 'injury crisis'.

"It's part and parcel of the game. We would back the squad. It is always a squad effort and, form that end, the injuries provide another opportunity for somebody else," he counseled.

"It's about recognising that the guys in the shirt understand the responsibilities that go with it and we crack on. There's nothing you can do about it."

Leinster will have to host Wasps without forwards Cian Healy, Seán O'Brien, Jordi Murphy and Kevin McLaughlin, and backs Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald and Dave Kearney.

The plain truth is that Leinster without Healy and O'Brien is like an Irish summer without a storm. The balance between shining back play and thunderous forward power is not what it could be.

The province needs to get the climate just right or it will be blown out by Pool foes Harlequins, led by former Ireland full-back Conor O'Shea, Castres Olympique and Wasps.

How does O'Connor view the road blocks ahead? He starts in England where he worked as coach to the revered Leicester Tigers for three seasons between 2010 and 2013.

"The nature of The Premiership takes its toll," he imparted. "It's very attritional. In the past, they have been criticised for not being able to raise their game when they get into Europe. I think that's changing now."

Europe is that intermediate step between club and international rugby where, increasingly, the best players in the world are on show for powerhouse French clubs and, latterly, the English participants.

"Europe is different," said O'Connor. "The dynamics that go with Cup rugby are very unique and that's what adds to the excitement of the tournament. Everything has a premium. Every minute is important. Every point. Every action is vitally important to the outcome of not just what happens in that given game, but in the group."

HARLEQUINS

Premiership: Last Season - 4th, beaten semi-finalists; This Season - 6th: Won 3, Lost 2.

Most Recent Result: Harlequins 52 London Welsh 0.

Matt O'Connor: "Any team that has the quality on their roster in relation to (Nick) Easter, (Danny) Care, Nick Evans, (Mike) Brown, (Marland) Yarde are going to be very, very difficult. Some of those guys - (Chris) Robshaw - have done that at test level very recently and have been the mainstay of the England squad. From that end, they've got big-game experience. They will be very tough, especially at the Stoop. They will be incredibly difficult."

WASPS

Premiership: Last Season - 7th; This Season - 9th ... Won 2, Lost 3.

Most Recent Result: Sale Sharks 25 Wasps 14.

Matt O'Connor: "Wasps have, under Dai Young, developed a pretty good squad. They've got a lot of good players. Leinster drew them in the Amlin a couple of years ago. So far this season, they've showed they're very potent with ball in hand. They've got as good finishers in their back three as anybody. We'll have to be very, very good to nullify that and take our opportunities."

CASTRES OLYMPIQUE

Top 14: Last Season - 6th, beaten semi-finalists; This Season - 10th - Won 3, Lost 5.

Most Recent Result: Castres 51 Grenoble 10.

Matt O'Connor: "There doesn't seem to be too much change on the surface. They're probably down a couple of quality players, most notably (Antonie) Claassen at eight and (Brice) Dulin at fifteen, who have moved on. It's probably taken a little bit of top-end talent out of their group. But, they showed at the weekend, they're a long way from all washed up. They've got tremendous pedigree. You can't under-estimate them at all."

LEINSTER

Guinness PRO12 League: Last Season - 1st, champions; This Season - 7th - Won 2, Lost 3.

Most Recent Result: Leinster 23 Munster 34.

Matt O'Conner: "We were too easy to score against. At close quarters, we were far too easy to break down and get momentum against. We need to be better at the breakdown. We need to make sure we resource our ball better and, if we can do that, we can certainly create and take opportunities. That will be really important building into Europe."

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