The Insider: Time to create more special memories
It's as big a week as I can remember and there is an onus on those selected to represent the wider squad
Champions Cup semi-final week and the club has been buzzing! It has been a long and winding road to get to this point but that is what makes it all the more sweeter.
On the field, the lead-in to this European week has been ideal really with two of the toughest places to go to in the Guinness PRO12 setting us up nicely with two really big tests. Trips to the Liberty Stadium and to the Sportsground are never easy so to get nine points from this block was satisfying and it puts us in a very strong position now going into the last two games in the championship as we have already secured a top-two position.
The team was rotated and a lot of players have really put their hands up for selection for what will be the biggest game of the season so far this Sunday in Lyon. These are tough decisions for the coaching staff to make but they are the right kind of headaches to have at this stage of the season with so many guys playing well.
Last week's result against Connacht was a really impressive one and I can't remember the last time we came away from the Sportsground with a try bonus point and in the end a convincing win. Connacht play a really expensive style of rugby at the moment but they have been unlucky at stages this year. Pat Lam has turned them into a quality side but it was always going to be a big ask this year after winning the trophy for the first time last season.
The longer week is nice, particularly coming into such a huge game for the club. It gives players a chance to prepare and recover for an extra day so we can be as fresh as possible going over to France.
The excitement around the club all week is different. These weeks are the ones we all want to be involved in and it makes all the hard work and sacrifices worth it. Fighting for silverware with the best in Europe is where Leinster should be and it's special. The last time the teams met in the knockout stages was the semi-final in 2012. The game was in Bordeaux and I will never forget the atmosphere that day.
The Leinster travelling support was incredible and the Clermont fans are some of the most passionate in France so the noise was deafening. I was on the bench that day and came on with 20 minutes to go so was on the pitch for the drama in the last play of the game when Wesley Fofana looked to have snatched a victory with a last-gasp try. Thankfully, referee Wayne Barnes went to the TMO and it was knocked on over the line as Gordon D'Arcy somehow managed to force the turnover as he was grounding the ball.
I've no doubt this will be mentioned to the group that are going to Lyon on this occasion for Clermont about the opportunity of revenge. Jono Gibbes was Leinster's forwards coach at the time so he will have them well-versed on where our strengths and weakness' lie. They are a very different team now when you look at the team sheet from that day but the style they play is still similar. They still have a big, powerful pack and a really dangerous back-line so we know how big a challenge it is against them in France and it's really exciting for the group.
I mentioned the road travelled earlier and it's been the polar opposite to last season where we learned harsh lessons. This year we started with wins and won all our home pool games which is a must if you want to qualify to the knockout stages. The amount of effort put in by a large pool of players has been outstanding and the depth of our squad this year has definitely been our biggest strength. Not every player can get into the 23 but those that do will get the opportunity and responsibility to represent the squad on Sunday.
I've also heard that there are thousands of Leinster fans travelling and I'm looking forward to seeing them as we arrive on the bus and then hearing them in full voice to help us beat Clermont in their backyard.
Winning in Bordeaux against them in 2012 is a day I'll always remember. But now it's time to make more great memories... we are relishing that opportunity!