Wednesday 13 December 2017

Joe: We can only focus on our game

SCHMIDT won't let Clermont's 'rest' prey on Leinster minds

'Clermont va a Toulouse avec le Leinster en tete' - French Newspaper, last week.

It is a rare occurrence for any French club to rest players against Toulouse in the French Top 14 so that they can be in prime condition for the Heineken Cup.

This appears to be the strategy of Clermont Auvergne coach Vern Cotter as 'Les Jaunards' pushed Toulouse to the limit before losing out 30-22 in the South of France last weekend.

"I read that headline in a French newspaper during last week. Loosely translated, it means Clermont travel to Toulouse with Leinster on their minds," explained coach Joe Schmidt.

"I don't know if that is the case or not, but, certainly, none of their starting front row started against Toulouse," he revealed.

"Benjamin Kayser came on. Thomas Domingo didn't come on. Davit Zirakashvili didn't come on. Locks Julien Pierre and Jamie Cudmore didn't start at lock. Cudmore did run on at six.

"Number eight Damien Chouly, who they brought in from Perpignan, was on the bench and didn't come on. Another one would be Brock James, their fly-half.

"It is probably fair to say there was a number of them that if you look at their 'equipe type', their typical team, that weren't there."

Worryingly, Clermont were right there with Toulouse to the death when a late Luke McAlister penalty took away their losing bonus, leaving them in third, behind Toulon and Toulouse.

Their roster of players includes two full teams of internationals with 19 from France, four All Blacks, two British & Irish Lions in Wales' Lee Byrne and Scotland's Nathan Hines, the Leinster old boy.

While Clermont can be vulnerable on the road in France, they completely destroyed Exeter Chiefs 46-12 at Sandy Park for the gain of a bonus-point victory in the second round of matches in the Heineken Cup to go with their 49-16 dismantling of The Scarlets.

This means they opened up with two five pointers at the same time that Leinster struggled to get past the Chiefs 9-6 at the RDS in round one and improved considerably to take down The Scarlets 20-13 in Wales.

It should not be forgotten that Leinster have three of the last four European Cups and hold a healthy 5-1 lead over Clermont in their head-to-head match-ups in Europe.

"There is a risk of over-focusing on them. They've got so many arms in their arsenal that you would get distracted by what they are capable of doing," stated Schmidt.

"It can also erode a bit of confidence as well. We've got to be really focused on what we can do and take confidence from what we've done in the past."

In the off-season, Cotter signed Fiji wing threat Napolioni Nalaga and imported All Black Benson Stanley and French number eight Damien Chouly.

"Obviously, they'll take confidence from having strengthened their squad this year.

"They also lost Julien Malzieu and Lee Byrne early in the game last year which didn't help their continuity in the backline.

"They'll feel that they are not in a bad position to knock us over. They are utterly determined to do so. I know that."

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