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Blues are still fighting odds in Euro battle

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Matt O'Connor

Matt O'Connor

Matt O'Connor

Matt O'CONNOR is in the business of winning and Leinster are winning.

Any review of the three-time European Cup champions comes with a health warning from their extensive list of casualties, just as their two blockbusting forwards Cian Healy and Seán O'Brien finally approach full fitness in time for the Six Nations.

The simple facts are Leinster would have been away and over the hill against Wasps had Ian Madigan taken the chances that came his way at The Ricoh Arena.

It would be naive not to feel insecure about the way they faded, especially when captain Jamie Heaslip left the contest.

There would have been no need for Montpellier to dramatically overturn Toulouse or for Glasgow Warriors to keep a tight-rein on Bath's pretensions for a four-try, bonus-point victory on Sunday had Leinster not gone into their shell in the second half in Coventry.

While there have been sideswipes at Leinster's struggles to subdue English clubs Wasps and Harlequins, Racing Metro stand alone as the only club to emerge unscathed with six straight victories in the Pool phase of The Champions Cup.

Strong favourites Toulon were undone by Leicester Tigers at Welford Road. Clermont-Auvergne were gutted by Saracens at Allianz Park.

Northampton Saints were obliterated by Jonathan Sexton's Racing Metro in an overpowering performance to, perhaps, make the Ireland fly-half think twice about where he can best win trophies.

These are all recorded to demonstrate how the newly, condensed Champions Cup is tighter, tougher and tastier.

MUSCLE

The mere fact that French clubs occupy the top three seeds is a reflection of where the financial muscle lies these days as Leinster continue to fight the good fight and carry the flag for the increasingly sidelined PRO12 League.

The English brigade haven't fared too well either, with four of their clubs all set for away quarter-finals in a competition where one-in-three go the way of the travelling side.

What has gone before will count for little or nothing by the time the quarter-finals swing around on the first weekend in April.

By then, the Six Nations will have taken its toll and Leinster have more than any other club to lose from what might happen in the old competition.

For instance, the province provides 24 of the 46 names listed by Ireland coach Joe Schmidt for the combined squad presented for the Six Nations and Irish Wolfhounds.

The notion that coach O'Connor will be met with a full deck with which to play his cards in the Champions Cup quarter-final is simply unrealistic.

Leinster will host a Bath club which will haemorrhage six players to England's Six Nations bid with much made of the inclusion of Slammin' Sam Burgess in the English Saxons squad for Friday night.

The point is Leinster are at risk of losing far more than their opponents with the vaunted Toulon waiting to deal with what Wasps bring to Stade Felix Mayol before the Irish province can even entertain hopes of doing what they couldn't do last season, beat Toulon away.

Just two of Bath's England half-dozen, in prop David Wilson and second row David Attwood, come from their front five.

This is where O'Connor might look to make proper profit out of what he likes to call "a competitive advantage" with Leinster possessing the depth of two Ireland international front rows.


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