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Blues strike for home

Leinster coach Michael Cheika is dedicated to leaving a legacy of achievement behind him when he flies out of Dublin at the end of the season.

You might think he has broken down the psychological barriers to success with the annexing of the Magners League (2008) and the Heineken Cup (2009). You might think that is enough. You would be wrong.

There is always another goal to be scored: "If I close my eyes and think about my time here, I still haven't delivered a home quarter-final to this club for our fans," he said.

It is another box to be ticked, another canyon to be bridged, in the list of must-dos that remain the basis for his plan to take Leinster to back-to-back European titles.

"We are really committed to doing that. If we get a win (at Twickenham), we will get that. We've got to make sure that we are on (our game), that we pay back (the fans)," said Cheika.

The fog that shrouded the seemingly endless permutations surrounding the qualification for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals lifted a little yesterday.

It ended with Munster and Leinster occupying, for the moment, seeds one and two, respectively, in the overall scheme of things with French powerhouses Toulouse and Biarritz Olympique also scheduled for home quarter-finals.

Of course, this scenario can be turned on its head in the space of 80 minutes, or less, as London Irish discovered at Parc Y Scarlets yesterday afternoon.

The Exiles were shocked 31-22 in West Wales where they looked set fare to challenge Leinster for leadership of Pool 6, leading 22-10 with three-quarters of the match expired.

Then, out of nowhere, the Welsh club fired three tries through blindside Rob McCusker (2) and Jonathan Davies to suddenly make Irish outsiders to qualify for the last eight, never mind overtake Leinster.

London Irish will have to score four tries, or more, for a bonus-point win, while denying Leinster -- the champions have conceded five tries in five matches -- a losing bonus point in order to reclaim lost ground.

There is a definite sense that Leinster have been waiting for the final round to exact retribution for their defeat to Irish in October. The move of the match from Reading to Twickenham makes it more of a neutral venue than Irish coach Toby Booth would have wanted.

Once again, Leinster had to wait for their talisman Brian O'Driscoll, otherwise unusually quiet, to apply the coup de grace on the outside of Shane Horgan's sublime side-door slider in the 27-10 decision over the French club.

It didn't paper over a performance that was some way short of Leinster's best. However, Brive came to battle as a team transformed from their previous encounter before Christmas.

In fact, the Leinster scrum, which earned a penalty try, and lineout operated smoothly. Jonathan Sexton improved as the game evolved and Sean O'Brien made a big impact from the bench.

Coach Cheika was keen to emphasise the character he has been central to building in a province that was once known as the great under-achiever.

"Hopefully, it is what Leinster rugby is about. We believe in ourselves. Shane Horgan throws a no-look ball and he knows the guy (O'Driscoll) is going to be there.

"It is about how you keep your nerve when things don't go right. When the lads came in at half-time they were looking down. We spoke. This is European football. Nothing is easy. You have to earn everything you get. It wasn't going well.

BELIEF

"We showed good belief. If you turn your mind back almost a year, we played a little bit like that against Castres in Dublin and we didn't get the bonus point.

"When it needed to be done right, they backed themselves to do it and they got it done. It has given us the opportunity to qualify, maybe even have a home quarter-final if we have a win."

The general dissatisfaction the Leinster management and players felt at how they handled Brive should provide plenty of fodder for consideration during the week.

"It should make us concentrate more on the way we want to play against London Irish. Or else, it mightn't go the way we want it to," stressed Nathan Hines.

The three-week break from a competitive match was borne out in the stop-start, dysfunctional nature of Leinster's continuity game. They simply couldn't build the phases needed to stretch Brive in the first-half at The RDS.

"We were frustrated (at the break). Things weren't going our way. We felt a little rusty and we didn't get any rhythm into the game. We picked it up in the second-half which was good with not having played for three or four weeks.

"We achieved what we wanted. We got five points, obviously not in the manner we would have wanted. We could have been more effective. We have to step it up a gear next weekend for London Irish," concluded Hines.

As it stands, Leinster will travel to London with the safety net of five points to spare over London Irish in the Pool and the knowledge that an away win will give them a home quarter-final.

It is part of Michael Cheika's plan.



TOP 8 AFTER FIVE ROUNDS OF



THE HEINEKEN CUP

1. Munster 20

2. Leinster 20

3. Toulouse 19

4. Biarritz Olympique 19

5. Leicester 17

6. Stade Francais 17

7. Northampton 18

8. Clermont 16


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