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Thursday 14 December 2017

Stuart: It is all about winning

Senior coach Lancaster is standing at the gates of redemption in Champions Cup

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Stuart Lancaster, the man who has won nothing, has played a central role at the club which has won everything.

The former England head coach received more than his fair share of the blame when the host nation bombed out of the World Cup.

He has also done more than his fair share in taking Leinster to the semi-finals of the European Cup and the PRO12 League.

The Cumbrian stands on the brink of a special comeback.

He was reticent and pragmatic when asked the leading question about where making The Champions Cup final would rank in his career.

"It isn't about me particularly," he said.

"For the overall group, it would be a fantastic achievement.

"When you look at it, we didn't get out of the Pool last year. We won one game.

"To have that sort of transformation, to go from one pool game to get to the final, would be outstanding for the club.

"As I learned, it is all about winning."

For all of Lancaster's experience, head coach Leo Cullen was there in the thick of it to become a three-time winning captain.

Jonathan Sexton and Sean O'Brien will have to make-up for the loss of Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney in what is a much-changed group.

"Since I've been here, I've been unbelievably impressed with the quality of players that are here, the mindset to want to get better and, also, the mindset to go to a fourth European Cup final.

Massive

"It is a massive, massive driver for the players," said Lancaster.

"The players, quite rightly, are very proud and the players, who played in those finals, are very proud of what they have achieved in the past.

"They want to do it again for the fourth time."

To have a chance of winning the European Cup final again, Leinster must overcome one of the biggest tests in northern hemisphere rugby. Clermont-Auvergne. In Lyon.

"As a coach you have to prepare them as best they can be. The environment is pretty unique.

"I've been in international environments away from home and sometimes the atmosphere before the game is absolutely white hot and electric and you can't even hear yourself think.

"I think this particular game will be the white hot, electric atmosphere."

It is at times like this that coaches go back to what they have seen.

"If you go back to 2015, Saracens played Clermont in the semi-final in France.

"It wasn't in the same stadium but a similar stadium so that gives you an indication as to how difficult it is because Clermont beat Saracens that day."

Les Jaunards have been fallible of late.

They have lost four of their last six in the French Top-14 and two on those have come at Stade Michelin to Brive and Montpellier.

"When they put out their best team they tend to win," argued Lancaster.

"They are probably the best coached of the Top 14 teams in terms of their organisation and structure.

"It is as tough a challenge as you are going to get in European rugby."

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