Rob Kearney: We've won big games in France before, we know how to do it again
Published 07/12/2012 | 17:00
CLERMONT will feel like they owe us one on Sunday, big time. They probably do. They will be hugely up for this. We have caused a huge amount of upset for them over the last number of years and they make no secret of the fact that they are really targeting Europe. They want to be in Dublin next May, lifting that trophy.
Particularly after last season's semi-final, considering how tight it was and how close they were to the final. At home, in front of their own fans, they will want to make a big statement.
Clermont are owed a little bit of luck against Leinster. People say you make your own luck, but there are days when things happen for you and others when they don't.
What a lot of people forget is how many fortunate experiences we have had against Vern Cotter's team.
That quarter-final in the RDS in 2010, Brock James has never had a kicking day like that before or since. If you gave Wesley Fofana the chance he had in Bordeaux last season 99 more times, he would take it on every occasion.
If those incidents had gone the other way, you're out of two competitions, right there. You don't win the trophy. And the back-to-back games are always difficult, you can never call them.
Clermont are a class side. They have progressed hugely over the past number of years and their squad is one of the best in club rugby in the world. That is undisputed.
They are everything that Joe Schmidt has tried to make Leinster; that Joe has made Leinster. You can see real similarities between the team that Joe has tried to create and the team that Clermont is now and has been over the last few years.
I remember my first away trip to France, it was Michael Cheika's first season and we had Bourgoin back-to-back at Christmas, in 2005.
They had come to the RDS with a pretty strong team and we thumped them 60-0. In typical French fashion, six days later we went over and got beaten.
It was my first professional game in France. It was a real awakening as to how difficult it is to win over there and how hostile and loud the crowd are. There is no mercy.
But, what I love about the French crowd is that, no matter how hostile they are to you, if their own team isn't playing well they will turn on them too.
That is always something that you can use to your advantage. Knowing that if you can get on top of the game, then the stadium will turn against their own is an added boost. You can have an aura in the stadium.
There is a real specific type of player who uses that hostile atmosphere to improve their own game. I wouldn't be one of those.
There are a lot of players who would enjoy picking up a newspaper and reading bad things about themselves, and think: "I'll show them." That's not me.
I like to feel good about myself and feel confident going into a game. It is never nice having the crowd against you. It adds to the pressure and the more pressure you are under, the more your skill and your technique come under scrutiny. You have to perform that little bit more.
There is going to be great excitement in the camp this week. Stade Marcel Michelin is an awesome place to play – the crowd is incredible, they make a lot of noise.
Then you have Clermont's record at home, 50 games unbeaten. You can look at that and say, "that's daunting, the odds are stacked against us."
But then you visualise yourself at the final whistle having just won; having just broken their 50-game streak. That's an awesome feeling, they are the type of things that you play sport for.
There will be mixed emotions coming from all different directions.
Watching at home, Sky Sports will be calculating tables throughout the weekend, but players never think about the permutations at this stage of the pool, they really just think about the game at hand. Sunday is about 80 minutes, about getting the win.
To the press, to the public and the people who go to the RDS, when they watch Leinster they see three-time Heineken Cup winners. On the inside of the camp we just see ourselves as Heineken Cup contenders. They are two very different things.
Deep down, we know that we have won big games in France, we can do those things. It does give you a little bit of confidence, knowing that.
At the moment, we are contenders who are trying to win a trophy – I can't stress that enough. Once you lose sight of that, you will never achieve.