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Cracks show at THE RDS

Leinster wanted five points out of the Exeter Chiefs. They would have been more than content with four as Ignacio Mieres’s penalty screamed towards the posts at the final whistle.





There was a distinct internal atmosphere of anger, not just disappointment, from the players in the post-match home dressing-room. This was not the stuff of Heineken Cup champions.

“Far from it,” said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt. As Mieres drew back his right boot to smash what would have been the equalising points, Schmidt confessed to looking on with the cold eye of a professional.

“If he gets this, I need to get everyone together and focus more on the positives. If he doesn’t get it, they’ll get it when they get inside. It was pretty much that because we do have to be better than that,” he revealed.

In the cold shadows of the night, Schmidt first paid humble and honest respect to the Premiership club. They were every bit as good as he promised in the build-up. “Again, I think it is really dangerous to detract from what Exeter brought to the game. I really do think that they are going to be a bit of headache for anyone in the pool.

“I am certainly not looking forward to Round Six already when we’ve got to go to Sandy Park. I hope they don’t rest on their laurels and presume anything because if you do against the firepower that Clermont can |bring . . .”

The half-finished sentence did not need a conclusion. Clermont Auvergne took a hammer to the ambitious Scarlets and smashed them into smithereens for five points in France once Morgan Stoddart had been |red-carded for two sin-bins.

“It is hard enough to play Clermont at Marcel Michelin. It is even tougher with 14. We’re going to Parc Y Scarlets. That is enough of a headache for me,” he said.

“I think the pool is a bit of a stinker. We will just try to fight our way through it and, hope, at the end of it, we can keep our hopes alive on coming out of the pool.”

The Scarlets looked confident and composed in the Massif Central until Stoddart lost his discipline just as Clermont cranked up the pressure with the sides level at 13-13 at the end of the first half.

Simon Easterby’s men know that they have just one option in west Wales next Saturday: “They know if they don’t win next week, their Heineken

Cup season is virtually over. They will throw everything they can at us,” issued Schmidt. “We’re going to have to take what we’ve got. In our hand, there are a couple of big rocks missing. There is a bit of gravel we’re going to have to throw at them to a degree.

Powerful

“That mix in the hand might not be as powerful as we would want. We’ll certainly go there and give it our best shot.”

The big rocks are Sean O’Brien |and Luke Fitzgerald, two gain-line breakers that would frighten any defence in Europe. In terms of Exeter, Leinster fell short of their standards. The tempo, so crucial to what they are all about, was sadly absent. The reasons are simple and straightforward.

“There was a lack of structure. One of the things we do pride ourselves on is keeping our shape. The boys know who is where. Therefore, you don’t tend to get that isolated player. We got that a few times. That was frustrating.

“It’s down to changes. It’s down to unavailability. We’ve got a fair bit of inexperience, especially at Heineken level. There are some young guys who are still finding their feet, Ian Madigan in a foreign position at full-back, Andy Conway on the wing making his first Heineken Cup start.

“At the same time, we had a few guys returning from injury who are inevitably going to be off the pace, like Cian (Healy), Leo Cullen, even Eoin Reddan. He didn’t do a lot at training. That compromises the continuity you are looking for.

“We have a few guys who were in doubt during the week and will continue to stay under a cloud. It is never a great circumstance to be in when you’re struggling for continuity.”

There is a chance that two other big rocks, full-back Rob Kearney (back) and centre Gordon D’Arcy (ribs), might make the cross-channel aeroplane.

“The Scarlets – there is only one way they can get back in the pool and that is with a win next week. It is certainly not going to get any easier,” said Schmidt.

The pragmatism of the coach was soon followed by honesty from centre Fergus McFadden: “Our set-piece is, probably, hot and cold. Our lineout didn’t function as well as it did last week. Definitely our ruck needs to be better against Scarlets.”

It promises to be unmissable.


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