Clermont can't be allowed build off the first phase - Muldowney
Grenoble’s ex-Connacht lock warns of danger of letting the French giants get a foothold off initial ball
This time last year Aly Muldowney was in the middle of the Connacht engine room which twice demolished Leinster on the way to the Pro12 title, and having spent this season in France, he knows that tomorrow's Champions Cup semi-final is so difficult to call.
He got a full whack of Clermont Auvergne's power last weekend when they made the two-hour journey across to Stade Lesdiguières and dished out a 59-18 hammering to Grenoble in their own backyard, a defeat which confirmed a relegation that has been in the Alpine air since early in the season.
Muldowney - whom some would argue was the most vital cog in Connacht's historic PRO12 success last year - has probably been Grenoble's player of the season despite their relegation from the flight and endless troubles off the field.
"It has been a difficult year, yet an enjoyable one in many other ways," said the 33-year old.
"The lifestyle is superb and, from a rugby perspective the key thing now is to regroup and get back up next year.
"We will have new coaches coming in and it will be a fresh start. There is going to be a massive turnover in players, but we are looking forward to getting stuck in and going from there."
He still keeps in contact with a lot of the Connacht players - Denis Buckley was out to Grenoble for a visit this week and Muldowney is heading away to John Muldoon's stag - while also keeping an eye on another former club, Exeter Chiefs, who look like they might be on track for silverware this season.
A season in the Top 14 has brought all sorts of experiences and the lethal strike rate which Clermont can inflict was rammed home last weekend when they ran in nine tries through eight different scorers.
"Leinster will need to stop them at source, that will be vital," explained Muldowney.
"A lot of what they do is making ground off first phase, they get momentum from that and are extremely dangerous from there.
"That will be the key, to limit what they can get off first phase and stop their offloading game.
"It's a big task but any side hoping to beat them needs to achieve that."
He said that the strength of the Clermont squad - the second-most expensive in the Top 14 this season - has been apparent throughout the campaign as they made progress domestically and in the Champions Cup.
"They have a huge squad and they mix it up quite a bit but essentially it is the same game-plan. Brive came to their place a few weeks ago and cut down that supply from first phase and went away with a win.
"Their forwards give them a huge platform and their back three, no matter who they select, are lethal if given any space. They are an impressive side, no doubt about that.
"Leinster will rightly feel they can match them in each area but for me the key thing is to cut down that first phase and force them at least to recycle and slow them down."
Muldowney expects a huge crowd to travel from Clermont at the packed Stade de Gerland tomorrow and that will add another layer for Leinster to contend with.
"They are only a couple of hours away and will travel in big numbers. For all their progress and success over the past decade or more, they have won very little silverware," he reaspmed.
"They are a side which has always taken Europe seriously and have been able to mix the demands of the Top 14 and the Champions Cup.
"Leinster will have to make sure that they don't allow Clermont get a foothold early doors but, then again, this is a fairly experienced Leinster side and they have these sort of demands before. It should be a cracker of a game."