Schmidt demands 'step up in hunger' for Saracens visit
Published 11/01/2011 | 05:00
The Donnybrook gallops. Jamie Heaslip is limbering up menacingly. Stan Wright is, in relative terms, gambolling gaily on the heavy going. Luke Fitzgerald, albeit heavily strapped, is dancing through a variety of hoops.
Leinster's thoroughbreds are in their finest fettle. And yet their astute trainer Joe Schmidt realises that even their winning form cannot mask all flaws ahead of some forbidding hurdles to come.
Despite shipping just two defeats in 13 matches, Schmidt appreciates that the past fortnight has unveiled certain flaws which could prove fatal, putatively pushing wide open a qualification door to their Heineken Cup rivals which, after four rounds, currently reveals the merest glimpse of light.
"It's really pleasing to come off a couple of wins," said Schmidt, donning a pair of unfathomably unseasonal shorts. "Mainly because we needed them for the Magners League.
"I think part of the motivation is they are realists. They know if they put in the sort of performances we did against Connacht and the Ospreys on Friday that it won't be of a level high enough to beat Saracens.
"If they got four points off us they'd be up to 10 points and if we remain on 14, suddenly they are within a win of catching us and getting past us with a home game and with us having to go to Racing Metro.
"With Clermont behind us and every chance of getting somewhere near us as well -- unfortunately the pool isn't over and we really need to win on Saturday. That's the bottom line."
The big decisions for Schmidt rest on whether to risk his big guns -- Heaslip (ankle) can be supplanted by Sean O'Brien if necessary, while Isa Nacewa's availability could leave Schmidt with a tricky choice between the flying Fergus McFadden and the returning Fitzgerald.
O'Brien trained fully yesterday while the injuries sustained by Cian Healy (hamstring), Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton (calf) from last week's efforts will be monitored this week, though Schmidt confirmed that all three will be available for selection.
That Leinster have their destiny in their hands infuses them with a confidence which may influence the selection policy.
"There will be step up in hunger and intensity in the team which we didn't see on Friday night, which was disappointing," continued Schmidt. "Sometimes it's not the worst thing to get the win having not played well and be hard on yourself and up the ante for the following week.
"In 10 years of professional coaching -- and even as a player -- you knew yourself that sometimes the big game came up and you were right up for it.
"There were games where you knew you had to perform, there was an expectation but you didn't quite have your heart and soul in it and because the margins are so fine in professional rugby -- if your heart's not quite in it, you don't get the same level of professional performance.
"That's why, without being too confident, I am very hopeful that you'll see a more energised Leinster team next Saturday. The Heineken Cup's enough to get players up for it.
"If you had asked me four months ago to take a five-point lead with two games to go, would you take it? I'd have jumped at it. We didn't work so hard, roll up our sleeves to get where we are to give it up now.
"That's the thing that would probably destroy us if we didn't do our utmost. Saracens are a good side, you can't be sure of the result. We have to do our utmost to perform well and then hopefully the result will look after itself."
As in the sport of kings, it's all about timing the run.