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You can't buy my experience

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THERE are advantages to being the unsung hero; disadvantages too.

Kevin McLaughlin is one of those easy-talking, hard-grafting men who takes it to the trenches every minute of his working life.

Mr Consistency, Jamie Heaslip, and Mr Dynamite, Seán O'Brien, wear the garlands of game-changing players, apparently wanted men in France; needed at Leinster.

UCD Commerce graduate McLaughlin does not calculate the time spent in the headlines. Minutes on the pitch are his greatest assets as he closes in on his 100th cap for Leinster against Castres in round two of the Heineken Cup on Saturday.

"It's gonna be great to hopefully notch up a hundred this weekend and I would like to think that I have developed a fair bit as a player," he said.

"I've obviously got a lot more experience. It's something that comes with just playing more games. You can't buy it or train for it. I've played in a lot more big games now and I feel like I have developed quite a lot as a player over the last six or so years."

While the eastern province has long been lauded for its attacking prowess, it was rigid defence that prevented the Ospreys from cutting loose in round one.

Fringes

That is a part of the game in which McLaughlin excels, particularly around the fringes of the action where big bodies set out to make big holes.

He has been impressed with the work of Matt O'Connor (pictured right) in this area: "It's something that we were discussing a lot towards the end of last season.

"Joe (Schmidt) was constantly on our case trying to up our line speed. Matt has brought in a slightly different system. He's trying to change our understanding. And it's allowing us to get off the line more.

"I've certainly learned a huge amount from him already from a defensive-shape point of view. And I think it has the potential to improve my game and everyone's defensive game.

"I suppose you could say that we're focusing very hard on that in training and maybe not giving as much time to attack as we did last year. The work we've done on our defence is starting to pay dividends.

"We're getting more line speed and we're attacking more in defence, which is something we wanted to do this season."

While Toulon, Toulouse and Clermont-Auvergne are committed to Europe, Castres have not always put their best foot forward in the Heineken Cup.

Certainly, the number of empty seats at their first round home win over Northampton Saints does point to a club not exactly obsessed with life outside France.

"We will be considered favourites. But, we're looking at it as the French champions coming into town," said McLaughlin.

"With this group, we take it week-by-week. We've got to target six wins. Only one team is going to go through from the group.

"You've got to win your home games. We have to make sure we up our level from last week and don't spend the week patting ourselves on the back."

Savagery

There will be little time for that as the players returned to training yesterday from two days off, such was the savagery of the exchanges against the Ospreys.

Perhaps, Leinster's focus was channelled into the defensive end of the game. They will have to target the breakdown to generate the fast ball the backline will thrive on this Saturday.

This is where Heaslip, O'Brien and McLaughlin will have to be on the ball: "As a back-row unit, as a whole pack, it's an area of the game that is crucial. Because we know if we get quick ball, with the backs that we have, they're going to cause damage. So if we can get that good go- forward ball and momentum it's going to be very hard to stop us."


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