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Defence holds key for Scarlets saga - O'Driscoll

SOMETIMES the gravity of the situation can be measured by the quality of the men put out to represent the club.

FORinstance, Leinster put coach Joe Schmidt and living legend Brian O'Driscoll front and centre for the media scavengers at the press briefing yesterday.

You could almost hear the collective 'Yippee' from those present. Opinions swing wildly from hack to hack. But there are some things everyone agrees on. These are the men to spread calm where there have been choppy waters.

O'Driscoll began by scotching the lingering rumours about a possible move to join his former coach Michael Cheika at the New South Wales Waratahs.

"It is certainly not on my to-do list at the moment. I have no plans or desires to be heading over there and I haven't spoken to anyone about it. I think it is best to nip that in the bud," he smiled.

Of course, the lure of French 'argent' was mooted every time O'Driscoll's contract was on the table for renegotiation, none more touted than Biarritz Olympique back in 2005.

"In years gone by, there was a need to (consider) that. When you're 33 years of age, there's no point in that any more. It is not a case of Dutch auctions. Far from it."

Legacy

For all the chatter of O'Driscoll's potential leaving of Leinster, it has never come to pass. He loves the club too much and would rather build a legacy here than a bigger house somewhere abroad.

At present, the Ireland captain will be more than occupied by the sight of the Scarlets' large and quick three-quarters moving in his general direction at Parc Y Scarlets tomorrow.

He will give away stones and years to their monster midfield: "My dad was a small man. He always held the belief that it doesn't matter how big the man is, if you get him around the ankles he's not going anywhere.

"Sometimes you can get a shot on someone, blindside them. Sometimes you have to get your technique right and chop them. It is about trying to make your tackles and get back in your defensive line as quickly as you can," he said.

The Exeter Chiefs gave Leinster a gauge on where they want to be: "It has probably given us a focus on a couple of areas that you can take for granted," O'Driscoll added.

"Every Monday, whether you win or lose, you always try and highlight a few areas you need improvement. We had a few more this week than we would have liked."

The proliferation of mistakes can undermine confidence and erode the building blocks that are the basics of the game, from which everything else possible can flow.

"It is not about doubting yourself. We are aware of what we are capable of. When you set high standards, you constantly try to progress year-on-year," said O'Driscoll.

"The pressure is constantly on you to stay with those standards. It is not necessarily pressure from outside. It is the pressure we put on ourselves to get better as players."

The Scarlets bring a special type of offence to bear. They have individuals, like George North and Jonathan Davies, who can operate outside the playbook, tear defences apart with a moment of brilliance. But they can't hurt Leinster without the ball.

"It is about starving teams - full stop - of possession and trying to hold onto the ball yourself as much as you can.

Possession

"We probably didn't have the level of possession we would have liked last week. It is about trying to get the shift right there.

"They definitely have a very talented backline with some big ball carriers, a lot of guys who have played for Wales and played recently.

"It is not just a backline thing. It is about pressure from the whole defensive team when they do have possession to make sure that we do limit them where we can and that we play smart when we have the ball.

"You can use your defence sometimes as a weapon. We want to look on defence as an opportunity as well as attack."

Leinster have not been at or near their best.

They have been saddle sore with injuries, hampered by the ins and outs of a disjointed early season, most notably in the 45-20 devastation at Scarlets in the Pro12 League.

"To play for Leinster is a responsibility. It is about guys understanding that. Every time you pull the jersey on, you're not just representing yourself, you're representing everyone in the organisation," said O'Driscoll.

"When you have bad losses, you have to allow that to galvanise you and realise we haven't worked as hard as we have over the last five or six years to find ourselves in those situations.

"Those standards will never be accepted. It is about making that right if you are lucky enough to be given the jersey the following week."

Scarlets' back-three player Morgan Stoddart is free to partake tomorrow on the basis of the decision that his red card for two sin-bin offences was "sufficient punishment".

Coach Simon Easterby reached three Heineken Cup semi-finals with Llanelli and the subsequently branded 'Scarlets' without ever making it to the pinnacle of the competition.

O'Driscoll is not one to under-estimate the rookie head coach: "I played a lot of times with him (for Ireland). He was always a very smart player.

"I am sure he has great ideas on how he wants his team of players to play. He has got the athletes to play a really good brand. It's an attractive brand.

"But we're not going to be sitting back and watching their attractive brand this weekend.

"It is about getting into them and stopping them playing their game."


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