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Schmidt revels in tactical jousting - Horgan

THERE are two Joe Schmidts. The before Leinster and the during Leinster. The before Leinster Schmidt was the secret tactical weapon in Clermont-Auvergne's arsenal.

The Heineken Cup semi-final could just come down to one factor: does Schmidt have more on his friend, Clermont coach Vern Cotter, or does Cotter have more on Schmidt?

It is a cat-and-mouse scenario that could just make all the difference.

Recently retired Leinster and Ireland wing Shane Horgan is perfectly placed to comment on how Schmidt almost humbled Leinster as Clermont's backs coach in the 2010 Heineken quarter-final.

"It was sort of an ongoing joke when he came to Leinster that he rated Clermont above Leinster. We were the muppets and they were the real thing," joked Horgan.

"We would be going through the video before playing them again in the Pool phase last season. He was talking about these guys, like Ro-Ro (Aurelien Rougerie), using their nicknames and telling us to 'check this out'.

"What he did when he was at Clermont was recognise that he had very talented individuals and, for me, he looked to get individual mismatches for their best players to break up the collective defensive system that Leinster had in 2010.



Blindside

"Joe had wing (Julien) Malzieu coming in to take on the 10 from the blindside. Not only that, Brock James, their out-half, would stand very wide of the scrum-half, leaving a big hole for Malzieu to expose the space.

"He also had Malzieu running at me, one-on-one, with an inside runner blocking off the midfield cover. That was very difficult for me. I had a nightmare that night in 2010.

"Joe identified that they had incredibly talented individuals and to try and make the most of their one-on-one natural ability.

"He recognised that Leinster were defensively strong collectively, but, if you isolate an individual it can be difficult. Even now, to some degree, Joe brings that to Leinster as well.

"It is all about manipulating the defence to create a two-on-one or a three-on-two. From there, it is up to the skill level of the players to exploit that. A big thing for Joe is something called simulation. That means if you're not getting the ball, you're simulating to get the ball. That was, and is, the case. If we had a scrum and stacked the players to the left with only one player on the right, Joe would expect simulation from the lone back, the eight and the nine.

"Everyone was doing something so that, firstly, they could take the ball and, secondly, they could take the eye of one or more of the defenders to put an element of doubt in the defender's mind.

"In every training session, he went through the moves. If you're not getting the ball, you have to simulate or he would pull you out and sit you on the sideline.

"You're not there just to stand on the pitch. You always have to be working. That is what he's huge on. Everyone is meant to be doing that. He just puts a greater onus on it.

"When he goes through the video, he will review a try, the scorer, the pass, everything that led up to it.

"That is fine. But, he will specifically go to a small detail that won't have been picked up in the game by the players or by the television.



Brilliant

"A player will be running a line, selflessly, knowing he won't get the ball, Isa (Nacewa) is brilliant at it. Darce (Gordon D'Arcy) is brilliant at it.

"Nobody picks it up, but it makes a space for somebody else. He puts a huge emphasis on that and he rewards players with selection for that."

What Clermont have lost in a coach, they have certainly compensated for in playing personnel through Wales full-back Lee Byrne, All Black wing Sitiveni Sivivatu and ex-Leinster lock Nathan Hines to make them better equipped for Europe this season.

When Schmidt arrived at Leinster, he already knew he would have to combat his old club twice in the Pool last season at The Aviva Stadium and at the oh-so-hostile Stade Marcel Michelin.

"He was of the mindset that a lot of teams would go against Clermont and they would almost give them too much respect," said Horgan.

"He stressed that if an opportunity presents itself, by the way they defend, their alignment, you have to take that. This means if this happens in your own 22, you go after it. You don't follow the pre-game plan. You identify what is happening in the defensive pattern. Nine times out of 10, you won't have an option.

"When it does arise, you have to take it. This requires communication from the centres and wingers to feed the out-half with information as it is happening.

"In the first five minutes, you will see a lot of chat as players recognise Clermont's defensive strategy and feed the 10, the decision-maker, with the information necessary to make the best decision."

And it is up to Jonathan Sexton to take it from there.


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