independent

Friday 18 April 2014

We have big targets on our backs, says Leinster’s Gordon D’Arcy

Gordon D'Arcy

LEINSTER’S life in Europe will not get any easier this season as they chase an unprecedented third title on the bounce, admits Gordon D'Arcy.

"When you start winning you become a target for every team," the centre said. "And that is something you either accept and rise to, or it is something you crumble under.

"The attitude in this squad is to rise to that challenge and defend everything we have with everything we have in our locker.

"It was pretty special winning the Heineken Cup in 2009 because it was the end result of a big trophy-less period in Leinster rugby.

"A lot of us started around 1998 and 1999, and to take 10 or 11 years just to get to a final was too long, so to get that win was really something special.

"Then to win the Heineken Cup back-to-back in 2011 and 2012 was incredibly tough, but the challenge was there. It is a very hungry locker room."

Leinster’s opponents tomorrow Exeter are under no illusion about the challenge facing them.

But coach Rob Baxter insists the Chiefs will "go for it" against the reigning European champions.

Exeter have already shown their quality this season in beating reigning Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins, while they ran current league leaders Northampton close and accounted for Saracens.

"We are slightly above where we targeted in the Premiership given the fixtures we have had," Baxter said.

"That is pretty good since we've played all of the top four teams from last season. We are working hard to establish ourselves in the Premiership, and we've tended to do well in big, difficult circumstances.

"Now I've got to hope again that this weekend brings the best out of us. We will enjoy the experience and we will come out of it a better team.

"We'll approach Leinster in a similar manner to the Harlequins game. There is no point saying we will go there, kick the ball behind them and see if we can defend for 80 minutes.

"We will only get better as a side if we enjoy the 80 minutes - that is the only way to improve.

"I don't think it's giving our game-plan away to say we will go for it, because that is what we intend to do."

Welsh challengers the Scarlets are first up for Leinster's principal Pool Five rivals Clermont Auvergne tomorrow, and head coach Simon Easterby knows a huge task awaits his team at Stade Marcel Michelin.

"Clermont have such depth they have a couple of teams they can put out on the field that are capable of winning any game," Easterby said.

"We can't hide from the quality of their home record, but we will not just sit back and defend. We have to go there positively with a confident attitude."

Quins open their Pool Three programme against twice Heineken finalists Biarritz at the Twickenham Stoop tomorrow.

Connacht and Italian newcomers Zebre are also in the group, but Quins' meetings with Biarritz are likely to decide which team gains a guaranteed quarter-final place.

"We want to push through to that quarter-final stage," Quins skipper Chris Robshaw said.

"It's all about winning your first couple of games. As soon as you let those slip away then you are playing catch-up."

England fly-half Owen Farrell will be on the bench when Saracens travel to Edinburgh for a tricky Pool One encounter against last season's semi-finalists tomorrow.

Charlie Hodgson retains the number 10 shirt, with Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Schalk Brits and Kelly Brown among those players who return after missing last weekend's Premiership victory over London Welsh.

And former Bath fly-half Olly Barkley starts for his new club Racing Metro against Pool One visitors Munster at Stade de France, with the Irish heavyweights bolstered by lock Paul O'Connell's return following a five-month injury absence.

Sunday's action, meanwhile, takes the 2001 and 2002 European champions Leicester to four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse in Pool Two, with the Premiership's bottom club Sale Sharks hosting Pool Six opponents Cardiff Blues.

Northampton, runners-up two years ago, face a Sunday lunchtime appointment with Glasgow in Pool Four, before Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon end the opening weekend's European schedule against Stade Felix Mayol visitors Montpellier.

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