Gaffney focused on positive approach
THE one thing we must continue to assume, with the wonder that is the Heineken Cup, is that we cannot assume anything.
After last weekend's extraordinary troika of last-minute bonus-point tries transformed what could have been a relatively mundane week five of the pool stages into something quite special, so the landscape throughout has changed utterly.
In Leinster's pool, plucky Scarlets are contemplating the remarkable prospect of further heightening their status as London Irish's hoodoo club by edging them out of an Amlin Challenge Cup berth.
Irish themselves, their fledgling status in Europe representative of a frustrating inability to back words with substantial deeds, are still dreaming of overhauling Leinster with a 5-0 match points total.
Nothing is decided yet. Anything is possible. Even Twickenham forecasters are getting nervy -- regardless of those awaiting news from the labour court as another pesky industrial contretemps threatens to ground thousands of Leinster supporters.
Assumptions abound that the vast expanses of England's HQ will better suit Leinster's all-singing, all-dancing game; yet Irish teams are 0-2 on their last two visits there.
And can we assume Leinster's approach will necessarily favour craft ahead of graft? Gordon D'Arcy was all over the airwaves this week prognosticating, and almost revelling in the prospect of, a tight tussle especially, he emphasised, given Leinster's still burning desire to eke revenge for October's RDS defeat.
However, Leinster technical consultant Alan Gaffney, perhaps betraying his Randwick heritage, was forecasting a positive approach from his side -- if London Irish are foolish enough to mirror their doomed playbook from West Wales last Sunday, then Leinster won't shirk from going toe-to-toe.
"It depends which way Irish look at it, I suppose," he says. "We're going out to be positive, irrespective of what Irish do. We can't sit back on our heels and think we've got to deny Irish scoring four tries or try for the losing bonus point and proceed on our merry way into the quarter-finals.
"That's not the way we look at it. We'll go out to play rugby and that's what we'll do. I think Irish will probably do the same but which way are Irish going to look at it? Are they just going to try and win the game and hopefully go through as a second-placed team or go out and try and get the five points and win the pool?
"I suppose both things will be in their mind. They'll see how the first part goes, before the four tries. But I don't think anyone can put the cart before the horse. You can look back at similar things in qualification, years ago, and to my way of thinking, you can't think of four tries.
"As things develop, they develop. If you've scored two tries by half-time, you've got a chance of scoring four. But I don't know which way Irish are going to look at this and, to be quite truthful, I really don't care, because it's really relying on what we do, not what they do."
Gaffney doesn't want to be on the receiving end of a miracle, having helmed the most remarkable of them all for Munster against Gloucester seven years ago. On that occasion, Gloucester were unprepared for the whirlwind to come on that unforgettable Thomond day.
It's just like a golfer tries to protect a significant final-day lead by playing predictable par golf. When the heat comes around the turn, it can become nigh impossible to increase the pace. It is then that the golfer's game disintegrates.
"I don't think it will change the way we are looking at the game," says Gaffney. "We are looking at the game in a totally positive manner, trying to win.
"We won't get into a game of sevens with them but we are very happy to play a very entertaining brand of rugby. (Exiles coach) Toby Booth has been around the block long enough to understand that they can't go out and say 'we have to score four tries'. I think he'll say to his players we have to win the game first; what happens after that happens."
In short, anything. When Irish kicked to the corner at 22-10 up last weekend, five points looked theirs for the taking. They ended up with nothing.
"Without mentioning his name," says Gaffney, before adding mischievously, "even though it is Chris Malone, he throws a pass, it goes to hand and they score five points and they're top of the pool. That's as simple as it is.
"The pass doesn't go to hand, they don't score in the corner. Then Irish lose their bonus point. It's a game of small margins. They could be sitting at the present time on 20 points, top of the pool with us going there and struggling to qualify. That's how close this pool is."
And that's the closest to an assumption anyone involved this week will dare to suggest.