Schmidt to get early taste of Leinster surroundings
LEINSTER fans will get an earlier than expected glimpse of their coach-in-waiting when Joe Schmidt, Clermont's backs guru, hits town for April's Heineken Cup quarter-final.
"It will be a special match for Joe," head coach Vern Cotter said with a smile ahead of tomorrow night's Top 14 clash against Racing Metro 92.
Despite their formidable pedigree, this will be the crack French outfit's first quarter-final in eight years.
"We have waited a long time for this," admitted the club's sporting director Jean Marc Lhermet. We will play against Leinster in Ireland and we know they will be difficult to beat.
"At this level of competition, only the best teams remain, like Leinster, Munster and Toulouse. We expect a game of enormous intensity, in an incredible atmosphere. We emerged from a difficult group, with Leicester not even qualifying."
Leinster will decide tomorrow whether to disappoint the thousands of fans who may have wanted to witness this mouth-watering clash in Croke Park, but Cotter expects a difficult encounter wherever it is played.
"It will be something to behold," said the Kiwi. "The atmosphere should be unbelievable. Few players experience such moments. We will prepare accordingly and do everything in our power to win."
Meanwhile, Northampton coach Jim Mallinder has warned his side to be fully focused when they get a second bite at Munster in the quarter-finals.
"The Heineken Cup is the toughest competition in club rugby and when you get to the knock-out stages every game is a difficult one," said Mallinder, keen to avoid premature talk of a semi-final date with Biarritz or Ospreys.
"Either Biarritz or the Ospreys would be very difficult opponents. It is a great incentive, but there is no point in looking past Munster, especially because we have first-hand experience of playing at Thomond Park and how tough it can be.
"Nevertheless we were satisfied with how we competed on Friday night, especially in the set piece, at the breakdown and in defence.
"It is an indication of how far we have come in the past two years that we were disappointed we didn't win at a stadium where Munster have lost just once in European competition.
"It will be another massive game, but we have a lot of rugby to play before we can start thinking about the next stages of the Heineken Cup -- not least the Six Nations, in which both ourselves and Munster will have a lot of players involved.
"We cannot get ourselves too carried away. We have got to this position by taking every game as it comes and we have to keep doing this."