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Joe surveys frontline

LEINSTER are lodged between the rock that is Ulster and the hard place that is inconsistency in the PRO12 League.

It has been this way for Joe Schmidt's reign as he cuts the cloth that is his player pool to meet the measure of player time allocated to him by the Irish Rugby Football Union.

Munster used to be the benchmark in Europe, the champions in 2006 and 2008. They are now the measurement of where Leinster stands ahead of the start of the Heineken Cup.

There are still unconvincing signs about Leinster. There was a distinct drop in physical intensity and playing standards from the two previous seasons for two provincial sides finding their feet, one because of reduced numbers, the other because of a transformation in their style of play.



Opponents

Schmidt has already admitted that Leinster's pool opponents are not quite the quality of 2010-2011, namely Clermont-Auvergne, the then French champions, Saracens, the English champions in waiting, and the monster Racing Metro were in 2010.

Nonetheless, the dreaded Clermont-Auvergne, the very dangerous Scarlets and the not-to-be under-estimated Exeter Chiefs in Pool 5 make for a tasty menu of matches. It is, arguably, the second most difficult pool in the competition.

"If you put them under the microscope, you can talk about the individuals. Every one of those teams has players who get supporters excited and get us excited about how big the challenge is going to be and how good we're going to have to be to be competitive," stated Schmidt.

First up, Exeter will be brimming with confidence from their explosive 42-28 domination of the previously unbeaten Harlequins at Sandy Park on Saturday.

They are a tight-knit group, driven by a siege mentality that has seen them climb the English leagues to stand comparison with the best in England.

They have started the Premiership against Sale (won 43-6), Northampton (lost 24-21), London Welsh (lost 25-24), Saracens (won 14-12), Leicester (lost 30-8), and Harlequins (won 42-28) to be sixth in the league.

"I know that people have said a lot about Clermont being in our pool. That is absolutely irrelevant if we don't get performances in the first two Heineken Cup matches," warned Schmidt.

SCHMIDT ... on

EXETER CHIEFS

"I have been impressed with Exeter. Rob Baxter (the coach) has done a good job. They are good up front.

"(Wallaby second row) Dean Mumm is in there. I know him from the southern hemisphere. He is a good international, athletic second row.

"Camacho will come back in. He is a speedball for the Argentinean team.

"They play a very expansive game. They're going to be very tough."

... on SCARLETS

"They've got a super loose trio -- (Josh) Turnbull, (Rob) McCusker and (Aaron) Shingler. Shingler ran away from a number of our backs in the PRO12 League match. You don't have to talk too much about (George) North, (Jonathan) Davies, (Scott) Williams, (Rhys) Priestland, Travis Knoyle, Liam Williams. They've got a complete Welsh backline."

...on CLERMONT-AUVERGNE

"Those two teams are good enough without me talking about the international quality of Clermont.

"In (Wesley) Fofana, (Aurelian) Rougerie (pictured right) -- you've got the French starting midfield. Take them out. Put in an ex-All Black Benson Stanley. Put in Gavin Wiliams, the ex-Samoan captain. Put in ex-All Black Regan King."


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