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Berne feels extra edge

Four meetings in the one calendar year. They say familiarity breeds contempt, the implication being that once you overextend yourself in any sphere, that relations diminish.

With the attention shifting like a pendulum from Six Nations back to Magners League, Shaun Berne is better placed than most to assess the opportunities that tomorrow evening's game against the Scarlets can present.

The former Australia 'A' international has been a model of consistency for the province since his summer move from Bath and his steady head provided the backbone for the back-to-back Heineken Cup victories in December over the Scarlets.

Tomorrow will be the fourth meeting this season against the improved Welsh outfit, but Berne and his Leinster team-mates are not taking anything for granted following the pre-Christmas encounters.

"The Scarlets are a side who are developing, and, if you were to look at their side over the course of the past few months, you can see that their management have taken that approach this season", he reflected ahead of the RDS clash this weekend.

"Those two Heineken Cup games in December were crunch in terms of our own qualification through to the quarter-finals. To get 10 points was an excellent return for us but, to be honest, we're still a bit bitter about having lost the opening game of the season (18-16) over in Parc y Scarlets.

"We know that we'll have to on our guard because they are a physical side who like to play a fast, expansive game, and the boys know all about their attitude in terms of them coming over to the RDS to play because they gave us a hiding a few years ago.

"A few of the boys are still hurting from that one, so we will need to be sharp from the off this weekend and approach the game in a positive manner."

Given the close nature of contests between the two sides in recent years, Berne expects a close contest, and he also sees parallels between the approach of both clubs to promote young players from within.

"Coming off the British and Irish Cup win last week, you can see the extra edge to training, with so many players trying to put their hands up for selection.

"From an individual point of view, I see one of my most important roles within Leinster as someone who can help the likes of Ian Madigan and Eoin O'Malley with some of the experience that I have benefited from during my career.

"When I first started off with Randwick, Gary Ella and David Knox took me under their wing and were very good to me in terms of guidance and providing advice.

"So I was very fortunate to have someone when I was coming up through the junior ranks to bounce ideas off and to talk about the game."

With Ireland looking to bounce back from their defeat in Paris last weekend, Berne believes that the supplement of players from the national camp can benefit Leinster this week.

Furthermore, having arrived last summer from his second spell in Bath, he believes that the scrutiny brought about from success means that it can sometimes be difficult to match the dreams of an expectant nation.

"If I'm honest, because I was playing with Bath last year, I wouldn't have spent that much time looking at Ireland's progress, but I really want to see the Leinster boys do well when they pull on the green shirt.

"The attitude of the players coming back into the set-up this week has been first class and our preparations have gone up another level.

"To be honest though, with players competing for Ireland 'A' as well as the under-20s, I was interested to see how our guys got on.

"You always pick up nuggets of information watching matches and it was the same after our recent 'A' game in Navan against Ulster.

"I'm taking a keen interest in my team at all levels and I hope that we can transfer the good work being done into Saturday's game."


Can Ireland bounce back in Twickenham next weekend? "Absolutely", he insists.

"The one thing I've noticed is that there's huge expectation with both the Irish and the English national teams. They're under intense scrutiny, but I suppose that's to be expected when you have enjoyed success.

"People forget how good a team France are. In the past eight years they have only lost something like two games at home. Coming into next week's game England are two from two, but they only scraped a win against Italy.

"So, while the result last weekend was disappointing from an Ireland perspective, I think that they're playing the better rugby and have the wherewithal to go over to London and get a win."

Experience tells you to count your blessings, to be mindful of the pitfalls and to plan accordingly.

And the time for putting plans into action begins again for Leinster this Saturday.