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Leinster built to handle Ex-factor

THE problem for other clubs is that Leinster have stored up a wealth of experience and knowledge on how to time their season to perfection, to park apparent inconsistency and explode with brilliance.

It is just a case of where and when. Or, at least, it has been since that famous ignition of form in the spring of 2009, when all the grievances of yesteryears were forever banished by the pounding of Munster in the semi-final at Croke Park and Leicester Tigers in the final at Murrayfield.

Those two matches cemented Leinster's new-found identity as a club that all of the province could buy into, first and foremost, as winners. Not perennial losers.

The advent of Seán O'Brien has been the second biggest home-bred coup in spreading the Gospel of Leinster rugby the length and breadth of the province.

Sadly, O'Brien will miss out on the first two rounds and possibly the critical pool-turning back-to-back escapades against their Gallic friends at Clermont Auvergne.

In a way, this is the point. You have to have explosive players to make things happen. Leinster are badly lacking the firepower of O'Brien and Luke Fitzgerald to turn something ordinary into extraordinary.

They are not the only players who can do this. But, the spread of the X-Factor gene is thin, even on home ground in Dublin.

Rugby is a heavy contact sport where collisions are won by sheer brute force or high skills. Leinster have always looked to manipulate defences rather than brutalise them.

It is a simple fact of life that Leinster have to earn opportunities to finesse attacking strategies by physically imposing a game-plan on Exeter.

That won't be easy. The Chiefs are a tight-knit, real family unit. Most of the players live within walking distance of each other and commune on a daily basis.

Heck, the head coach Rob Baxter is the older brother of the number eight Richard Baxter. They are also on an upward curve of form that will give them the boost to travel in confidence more than hope. Their greatest strength is the all-round handling ability of their forwards out of the tackle.

Look for Leinster to wrap up the ball carriers and the points.

Verdict: Leinster