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Schmidt feels squeeze

Leinster and the Heineken Cup go together like a horse and carriage, like Munster and the Heineken Cup used to.

That is the simple reality of a profession still in its infancy. It evolves and changes quickly, leaving records and statistics behind for others to use as reasons why one club did and another didn't.

Coaches talk all the time about players taking ownership of what happens on the pitch. Only then can plans be implemented, consistency be achieved and something tangible, like a trophy, be grasped.

When this Heineken Holy Grail is found, the speed of life in the rugby fast lane means it is savoured and quickly parked as another season swings around.

"I remember last year starting against Montpellier and the team understanding that we were only one of 24 contenders," said Leinster coach Joe Schmidt.

"They say you're defending a Cup. But, you don't really get to defend it. You enjoy a summer when it's yours for four weeks.


"Then, you're back into the next season and it belongs to everyone equally until eight teams decide who's going to fight it out in the end".

Schmidt was known to be not best pleased when saddled with his old club Clermont-Auvergne, Scarlets and the under-rated Exeter Chiefs in Pool Five.

"I think there are two stinkers really, probably the other one is Toulouse, Leicester and Ospreys (Pool Two). I wouldn't want to be in that one or this one," he stated.

"Exeter are almost the worst team to get because there are teams that have been in the Heineken Cup before that have achieved ranking points.

"I am not sure Exeter deserve to be ranked in the fourth tier. I think they are a lot better than that.

"There is no breathing space in a Pool like ours.

"This is nothing we haven't had before. We know that it is something you've just got to roll your sleeves up and work hard at."

The process of retaining the Heineken begins in pre-season and continues through the first block of PRO12 matches. The signs have been shaky for Leinster, even against Munster.

"There were enough elements of it there that we could be reasonably satisfied that we're on the right track. But, there is an oncoming train and we've got to be ready in a very short space of time," he said, in describing The Chiefs.

Schmidt has pored over the evidence of Exeter's season to this point. They are stationed at sixth in the Premiership with a break-even return of three wins and three losses, beating the last two English champions, Saracens and Harlequins, in the process.

"I think the reality is 42-28 against Harlequins (in the Premiership last Saturday)," said Schmidt.

"Harlequins got a block-down try and an intercept. Add that up and it could have been a lot more. I certainly think the way they (Exeter) stay in games and then get on top is a real credit to them.

"Maybe Saracens weren't quite at full strength. They had a few guys on the bench that day. They brought them on to finish the game off. But they still couldn't get in front of them."

The Chiefs have also expanded their game plan. They have moved away from the predictable survival instincts that marked their arrival in the Premiership in 2010/2011 to climb to fifth last season and who-knows-where this.

"They've scored a lot of points. They play expansively. Their collective is very, very strong. I think they are the sort of team who roll up and know it is just another game of footie.

"That is what the Heineken Cup is -- fifteen-on-fifteen. They match up man-for-man pretty positively and as a group very strongly."