Schmidt ready for his toughest test yet
Published 08/12/2012 | 05:00
Joe Schmidt has admitted that tomorrow's trip to the Clermont "bear pit" will be the "toughest challenge" of his Leinster coaching career as his side continue their bid to win an unprecedented hat-trick of European crowns.
The champions are already two points adrift of the crack French outfit in Pool 5 and, although Leinster defeated them last season in an epic semi-final, that was held in Bordeaux, not the Stade Marcel Michelin fortress where they boast a 50-game winning streak.
Leinster may need at least a bonus point to keep their qualification hopes alive but they must do so without Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney, while Heinke van der Merwe was ruled out of the squad yesterday with a shoulder injury.
"Two years ago we put Clermont out of the Heineken Cup, last year we put them out of the Heineken Cup," says Schmidt, a former assistant coach at Clermont.
"There's only so many times that can happen I suppose, but we'd like to think there's one more in us and that's what we're looking to achieve."
Schmidt (left) sprung a major surprise by ditching new Ireland international hooker Richardt Strauss and including Sean Cronin from the start.
And Andrew Goodman will make his first Heineken Cup appearance at inside centre after Eoin O'Malley failed a late fitness test.
"You can't rely on the likes of Brian O'Driscoll because he isn't going to be around forever," said flanker Kevin McLaughlin, whose side are unbeaten for the last 17 games in Europe.
"When you lose these guys it is time for others to step up. They will try to bully you, that's the way they play.
"So we have got to match them to have any chance of breaking their 50-game unbeaten run.
"They are taking us into their bear pit and they are expecting to beat us. They have every right to expect that but we will try and cause an upset."
Saracens dismiss Thomond fear factor
Meanwhile, two of Saracens' leading lights have been quick to dismiss suggestions that the English outfit will be intimidated by the Thomond Park atmosphere tonight against Munster.
Ahead of what is a must-win Heineken Cup game for Munster, the soundings from the home team all week have been that there will be a raucous reception for their opponents – on and off the field.
But, having helped England topple the All Blacks last Saturday, Saracens pair Alex Goode and Brad Barritt insist that no task can prove too daunting.
"Most of us have never been to Thomond Park before, but we are about to find out," says Goode. "The crowd may be against you,or rather totally pro their team, but as long as there is an atmosphere you can work offthat." And Barritt believes Mark McCall' team will relish the prospect of silencing the Thomond Park crowd.
"At Sarries we love these games. We often produce our best performances on the road at hotbeds like Welford Road, Kingsholm and Franklin's Gardens," says the South Africa-born centre. "Those are the matches that you want to stand up and be counted more than any others.
"You take the energy and draw inspiration from it, but then you go to work. "Whether its Twickenham, Thomond Park or our training ground here in St Alban', the white lines are the same."