Thursday 23 November 2017

No place like home for Blues

LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt describes a home quarter-final as "pivotal" to their ambition of becoming just the second club to retain the Heineken Cup.

The champions hold the number one ranking on the way into the final weekend of the pool phases.

A bonus-point win at the RDS against Montpellier on Saturday will guarantee a home quarter-final against the eighth seeded club, in other words the second best runner-up.

As it stands, however, the New Zealander is on a collision course for a match-up against his long-time friend Vern Cotter and his former club, Clermont-Auvergne.

These two heavyweights were involved in the same pool last season.

Leinster routed Clermont 24-8 at the Aviva Stadium and snatched a bonus-point in defeat in the Massif Central.


So much for the number one seeding providing an easier route into the semi-finals!

Of course, a lot can happen between now and the end of next weekend.

Schmidt is rightly wary of the dangers from all the plaudits showered on his players as the installed favourites to join the Leicester Tigers of 2001 and 2002 and move ahead of two-time winners Leicester, Munster and London Wasps.

"There can be a danger of people feeling that if you get a home quarter-final it is a fait accompli. We limped over the line against Leicester Tigers last year so we will continue to look at one game at a time," warns Schmidt.

"At the start of the season we said that we were just another contender for the title.

"We enjoyed being champions in the summer and it is great we will be among the eight left to try to win the Heineken Cup."

While pragmatism and humility is preached by Schmidt, players are still made out of flesh, bone and brain. They are prone to believe what they hear almost as much as what they see.

This is where those who struggled for so long without reward for Leinster can bring their influence to bear.

Senior players Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Gordon D'Arcy and 'yer man' that is rehabilitating know how quick and painful the fall can be.

There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance and the latter will bring a player to his knees quicker than a Sam Warburton chop tackle.

How times have changed. The current generation of internationals, like Jonathan Sexton, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and Sean O'Brien, have never known the frustration of constantly falling flat on their faces in this competition.

It is the pressure placed on individuals to perform from a deeper squad that drives the engine.

Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley are stretching themselves and those around them to drive a more competitive environment.

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