Title is all that matters for Schmidt in final fling
JOE SCHMIDT has guided Leinster to victory an astonishing 76 times in the competitive arena since taking over as head coach three years ago.
Under his direction, Leinster have lost just 19 competitive fixtures and drawn three. It is a record that will stand the test of time. Schmidt coaches his 99th competitive game tonight before taking over Ireland's fortunes.
It is a shame he won't reach that magical 100 number – "I'm not bothered about that, it's a personal thing," he laughed yesterday – for surely no one has contributed more to Leinster's cause over the last three seasons.
Leinster have won two Heineken Cups and an Amlin Challenge Cup with Schmidt (above). The only stain on his curriculum vitae is the two Celtic League finals Leinster have lost with him at the helm. They also lost the final three years ago under Michael Cheika.
The memory of last year's final loss to Ospreys is one that Schmidt admits weighs heavily on his mind.
"I was incredibly frustrated last year," said Schmidt. "We were nine points up with eight minutes to go and it was our scrum feed and yet we lost the game."
"Ospreys deserved it, but I have carried something from that game. That said, we're forward thinking, we're looking ahead to this one."
It will mean a lot to the Leinster players to send Schmidt off with the one trophy that has eluded him during his Leinster years and the Kiwi does acknowledge it is one he covets – "it will be incredibly satisfying if it comes off" – although he is also chuffed that Leinster will once again close out the season.
"There are a lot of people on holidays now that make us delighted to be still working!" Schmidt said.
Sean O'Brien hasn't recovered from his knee injury and misses today's game while Ian Madigan will once again slot in alongside the returning Brian O'Driscoll in the centre.
For Ulster, tighthead prop John Afoa has recovered from a hamstring strain and makes an immediate return.