Battle lines clear for Joe
Nailing first tackles key for Schmidt if Blues are to survive French exam
There will be no room for error, no quarter given or taken and no warm welcome for Joe Schmidt until the final whistle is blown at Stade Marcel Michelin tomorrow. Clermont-Auvergne mean business.
"I think we will live or die by our first line of defence," stressed Schmidt.
"They have such big, strong ball carriers, once they do break your first line of defence it is very hard to get them back because your secondary defenders will be more than tested by the amount of players they have in motion.
"If a guy like (Aurelien) Rougerie can break a tackle, he'll get his hands free, at least, and other players will run off him. They do have a strong offloading game.
"Knowing them as well as I do, you know a lot of their strengths, which is imposing, and, at the same time, if there are some weaknesses, you feel pretty sure that they will try to cover those as best they can because they know me pretty well as well.
Schmidt is "more hopeful than confident" about Brian O'Driscoll making it back in time for the return match next Saturday. This means Eoin O'Malley could suddenly become a key player in Leinster's progress.
The coach is backing O'Malley: "One of his strengths is that he is physical.
"He is quite dynamic for a young guy who is not massive as a player. What he has got he uses really well. He is quite tigerish on his feet and a very sound defender.
"I wouldn't put him out there if I didn't think he could do it. It is a really good challenge for him. It is often not man-for-man.
"Can he handle Rougerie? Can he handle (Anthony) Floch or (Napolioni) Nalaga?
"There are a host of names. I am confident he will handle whoever he has to make the tackles on," said Schmidt.
Captain Leo Cullen has been there and done that, playing his part in Leinster's breakthrough win at what was then Montferrand (23-20) in December 2002 and also coming off the bench for Leicester Tigers against Clermont (40-27) back in January 2006.
Leinster have been badly hampered by not being able to get his players out on the training paddock, the well-documented injuries to O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Robert Kearney and the mere fact of playing the French champions in their own back yard.
"It hasn't been the first time we've been in a situation like this where not many people thought we were going to win," said Cullen.
"We've all had these occasions during our careers. That is the beauty of sport in a way.
"The challenge is immense. That is what makes it exciting. I can't wait for it. We have a tight-knit group. It is yet to be seen what we are going to do this year.
"We have been a bit scratchy on the road this year.
"It is important we look after our performance and, hopefully, the rest will take care of itself."
Do Leinster really believe? Their coach and captain do.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE v LEINSTER
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