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Excellence is Leinster mantra

COACH Joe Schmidt is not quite the great philosopher. But he does use the words of one to set the standards at Leinster.

"I suppose it comes from a man a lot smarter than me -- Aristotle. In layman's terms, he said 'you are what you do every day'," said a candid Schmidt.

"Excellence, therefore, is a habit. It is not an act. We try to drive that a little bit in our environment, as do other professional teams."

The Irish internationals that struggled in green for large parts of the Six Nations simply sizzled in the blue of Leinster as hapless Cardiff were dispatched ruthlessly 34-3 at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.

"To be honest, I was a lot more comfortable this time last year against Leicester because the Tigers had come here and won before," said Schmidt.

"There was an air of fear and certainly an air of certainty that it was going to be a massive battle, whereas this week people were writing Cardiff off.

"Whenever you write a team off like Edinburgh were written off against Toulouse, you do it at your peril."

It would appear fear is a useful tool to pull from the psychological war chest. It is, however, never enough on its own to extract what Schmidt wants from his players.

"You have got to balance fear with confidence," he said. "You have to believe you can do it. Cardiff, when they got a couple of scores down, they may have struggled to believe they were able to come back.

"Inevitably, there are going to be tough times in a match. I know. We were 7-0 down and 10-3 down against Toulouse here in the semi-final last year. We were then 20-16 down in the second-half after they scored from a 5m scrum.

"You've got to have the confidence to know that you can come back, believe you can do that and, at the same time, you've got to have a degree of fear that if you don't prepare well you won't get the result."

Cardiff got a heavy dose of the blues, alright. They may have looked pretty in pink but their rugby was pretty awful everywhere, except at the lineout. They were overmatched and, as their joint coach Justin Burnell admitted, "outclassed".

You can trace the change in Leinster back to the demise of Munster. They have been that relevant to each other's journey. The year was 2009.

The venue was Croke Park. The unbackable favourites were Munster. Leinster's shock 25-6 win prompted a sea-change.

Hyped

"It changed, in my eyes, when we went away in the quarter-final against Harlequins," said captain Leo Cullen.

"I suppose they (Munster) were the team that were being hyped up that year. They were on the back of two Heineken Cups in three years."

Winners don't spend too much discussing where it went right. They tend to dwell on what went wrong and how best to heal the wounds.

"We need to realise there were a lot of parts to the game we let ourselves down in. The lineout was average at best."

Schmidt knows Clermont better than any other coach in Europe.

He will have a long rap sheet on the various strengths and weaknesses of all their players following the French side's 22-3 win over Saracens yesterday.

"The game is three weeks away. It is one of the great things and annoying things about the Heineken Cup. There is no momentum you can take into a game," Schmidt said.

In turn, the French club will also have an inside man -- former Leinster second-row Nathan Hines -- to pass on important and relevant information to his current coach, Vern Cotter.

"They know me well. (Nathan) Hinesy even knows our lineout calls, although I don't think he could remember them when he was here," said Schmidt.

"The good thing is that the game is actually in Bordeaux. There is a bit of distance that they have to travel as well as us. That is a pretty foreign field for them."

Schmidt's only previous experience of playing there was in Clermont's 19-9 defeat of Toulouse in a French Top-14 semi-final.

The question is: was it lucky for Schmidt or was it lucky for Clermont? Maybe Aristotle could shed some light on that one.


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