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27 April 2013; Kevin McLaughlin, Leinster, celebrates after the game. Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, Leinster v Biarritz, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

27 April 2013; Kevin McLaughlin, Leinster, celebrates after the game. Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, Leinster v Biarritz, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

27 April 2013; Kevin McLaughlin, Leinster, celebrates after the game. Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final 2012/13, Leinster v Biarritz, RDS, Ballsbridge, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

TALK to Kevin McLaughlin about the nuances of knock-out rugby and his answer is immediate and measured. "There's no room for errors."

That's one of the many challenges facing Leinster when the Glasgow Warriors roll into town tomorrow night. Win, and your season extends by a week. Lose, and next Friday night's Amlin Challenge Cup is all-or-nothing.

Leinster are well-versed in the tensions and thought processes of playing in semi-finals. The last time they lost at this stage in any competition was back in May 2010 when they were knocked out of Europe by eventual Heineken Cup winners Toulouse.

Victories in Europe in 2011 and 2012 laid those ghosts to rest, while the province have also managed to secure Pro12 final berths since the advent of the play-offs in each of the last two seasons.

It's a record to be proud of, for sure, but not one to dwell on.

"Whenever you get to the semi-finals in any competition there are always a few extra nerves", the Ireland wing-forward reflected.

"And we only need to look at our recent record against Glasgow to see how close we were to being beaten by them on both occasions. Last November we edged them over there in Scotstoun in horrific conditions (6-0).

"A few weeks ago they came over to the RDS and probably deserved more from the game. We were defending for the closing spells of that game and Mads (Ian Madigan) was in good form that day scoring all of our points (in a 22-17 victory)."

He momentarily trails off. "They're a very good side."

McLaughlin credits Glasgow with the rejuvenation of Scottish rugby in recent times. What does he attribute their progress to?

"Well they're very well coached, which is clear to see. Gregor Townsend has come in and won the Coach of the Year last weekend (at the Pro12 awards) and he has them playing an effective and stylish brand of rugby.

"They have also recruited really well. While they place a big stock on their home-grown players such as Stuart Hogg, who is a rising talent in the league, both Josh Strauss and their scrum-half Niko Matawalu have been really consistent.

"Then when you throw in experienced heads like Al Kellock, you're looking at a talented, all-round unit."

Townsend's progress this season has not gone unnoticed. Though McLaughlin wouldn't necessarily subscribe to the view that coaching as an occupation is No Country For Old Men, the Dubliner does believe that the rapid developments and intricacies mean that coaches need to be more adaptable, informed and energetic to survive and thrive.

"Coaching is definitely becoming harder nowadays because you need to be at the cutting edge when it comes to analysis and all other aspects attached to the game", the 28-year-old says.

"Coaches seem to be a lot more hands on. If you take someone like Joe (Schmidt), for instance, he's full of energy and works crazy hours for the team to make sure that we're prepared as best we can every day.

"The game is becoming a lot more technical and the margins are so fine that you have to be ready to meet all of the advances."

It is said that losing in semi-finals is the worst stage to lose, with the argument possibly intimating that at least when you get to a final you are involved in a sense of occasion.

Whether everyone agrees or disagrees with that notion is uncertain, but McLaughlin says that the team are determined to focus attention on this weekend's battle as the Amlin Challenge Cup final in the RDS beckons a week from today.

"There's no doubting that Stade Fran├žais will be a huge game. But we haven't given it any thought this week.

"We see ourselves as a week-by-week team. Once we got into training on Monday morning we moved quickly on from the Ospreys win and all of our attention was on to Glasgow.

"We have a good record in semi-finals in recent years and we have beaten Ulster and Glasgow in each of the last two play-offs.

"But we have been left disappointed when we got to the finals.

"We have lost two at home and one down in Limerick and we want to go one better this season.

"It's a big driving ambition for us as a group and to do that we're going to have to try and beat two very good teams, because there are strong sides left in the other semi between Ulster and Scarlets."

McLaughlin is thankful for the chance to play consecutive key clashes in the RDS and believes that the support from the stands and terraces can be a catalyst for success this May.

"It's a nice reward for the team to give to the supporters at this time of the year because they've spent a considerable amount of money and invested a lot of time over the course of the season to follow us at home and abroad.

"It doesn't matter if it's freezing cold, or lashing down, they're there for us all the way. And that level of commitment is appreciated by everyone in the squad.

"We feel that we let them down in last year's PRO12 final so that's a massive motivation for us to go one step further this year."


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