O'Brien: Leinster have Cler' mission
THE battle lines will be drawn again on the green fields of France on Sunday afternoon.
And as the squad set off tomorrow morning from Dublin Airport, they will do so in the knowledge that they will have to overcome possibly their toughest ever away obstacle to book their place in next month's Heineken Cup final.
Bar the great Toulouse side of the mid 2000's, ASM Clermont Auvergne, who have made public their desire to capture European rugby's coveted crown in this their centenary year, are arguably the most formidable squad of players Leinster have faced.
The two gripping back-to-back tussles in last season's pool stages are testament to the quality and power that the French side can and -- it must be expected -- will bring.
But for Leinster wing forward Sean O'Brien, the message is simple this week: 'There's no tomorrow'.
The one-off nature of knockout ties ensures an added spice for the Tullow man, who admits it is a week which excites even the calmest of competitors.
"I suppose, when you look at it, it's obviously a big week. And nothing you can say or do can escape from that. But the point is, why would you want to escape from it? We're all hugely excited about the challenge of playing against Clermont; a dangerous side that have big ambitions to get to the final, which is the same as ourselves.
"We have played them three times over the previous two seasons and we know what to expect from them. When you throw in, the fact that it's a knockout semi-final, well, you don't need much more motivation. But we'll approach the game like we would any other: in a positive frame of mind."
Is there an added tension this week?
"To be honest, it's much the same as the quarter-finals," the 25-year-old says.
"When you know it's knockout rugby you have less margin for error than you might have, say in a PRO12 game or even in a pool match where you can slip up maybe once but still emerge.
"There are no second chances at this level and this is the kind of game you want to be a part of. It's why you do all the hard work through pre-season, why you work so hard in the gym and with the rehab end of things and why you apply yourself on those cold, wet mornings in the depths of winter."
O'Brien was part of the Ireland squad who played in a World Cup warm-up game against France last August, alongside provincial colleagues Leo Cullen, Luke Fitzgerald, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Eoin Reddan and Mike Ross.
He added: "We're out of our comfort zone this weekend, and it'll be a new venue for Leinster playing in Bordeaux, but at this stage of the season you just want to play in these kinds of games.
"If we're honest about it, we were under par against Ulster and so there was a big focus on us to get a good week's training under our belts. The area that we have to really be sharp on this week is the breakdown and it will be key to generating good go-forward ball."
A familiar face within the Clermont ranks will no doubt be keen to make a positive impression against his old employers.
"Hinesy (Nathan Hines) sums up everything that Clermont are about. He's big, aggressive, in your face, skilful and plays a very smart game.
"But he is just one of a number of threats in their ranks. They're a big, physical bunch of lads and they've really grown as a team in the last few years.
"When you play away in France you can't sit back and try to absorb pressure on the back-foot because they're adept at pressuring you. So, even though we'll be mindful of their capabilities, we'll look to assert ourselves.
"We've got to take the opportunities that come our way and look to fight fire with fire."