Thursday 14 December 2017

Schmidt: We can still scramble way out of group

WINNERS take control, they say. Leinster took control, but not the points to match it. That was what rankled most with their coach Joe Schmidt.

"It was incredibly disappointing because I think we were close enough to steal it," he said.

The manner in which Leinster absorbed pressure, relieved it and turned the screw on Clermont was testament to a great game plan and the belief the players had in their coaches.

"I think we dominated territory in the second-half. We created some really good opportunities. We just weren't precise enough, I don't think".

There were two uncharacteristic Richardt Strauss overthrows that went awry in the 59th and the 60th minutes, the latter six metres from the Clermont line.

"We lost a couple of key balls in the lineout throw and that didn't allow us to keep the pressure on them. They managed to escape their 22," said Schmidt.

Leinster's half-backs turned Clermont's hulking wingers Napolioni Nalaga and Sitiveni Sivivatu with clever kicks that almost paid off handsomely, but for the presence of Wales full-back Lee Byrne.

"I was really happy with a lot of what we did, in that regard. Lee Byrne was superb.

"There was one with him and Isa (Nacewa) contesting five metres out. If he takes it, they can clear. If Isa takes it, we're in with a real chance to score. It was that close."

Then, there was Jonathan Sexton's decision to kick cross-field for Fergus McFadden when three points were on offer in the 49th minute.

"I think it was pretty early in the half at that stage and we wanted to try and keep the pressure on. It was a strategy. It was something that we look at as a potential opportunity.

"It almost paid off for Isa on one side and Fergus. He got to the ball first, but unfortunately knocked it on. We couldn't quite get over the line.

"I thought if you are going to come here and beat Clermont, you've actually got to get over the try line, not just between the posts with the ball."

Thankfully, Leinster will not have time to dwell on the negatives. There is still a Pool to be won. They do not have to have five points against Clermont on Saturday.

Four may be enough to lay the foundation as one of the two best Runners-Up. At present, Munster and Leicester Tigers, both on ten, are one point ahead of them in Pools Two and One, respectively.

"We were missing five guys today who are pretty important to us. If we can get those back for Rounds Five and Six maybe we can salvage something then and scramble in as a best (runner-up) qualifier."

The carrot of five points from a bonus-point win over Clermont to take Leinster level on points next Saturday is dangling tantalisingly in front of them.

"It is difficult enough to beat this team, let alone start chasing points that are very difficult to get."

Could Leinster be capable of manufacturing their own 'Miracle Match?'

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