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Time to deliver

LEINSTER out-half Jonathan Sexton got that winning feeling he so wants to replicate against Clermont-Auvergne back at his old club St Mary's College on Saturday.

It couldn't have been more personal for Sexton, his younger brother Mark making a decisive impact as a replacement, scoring two tries to overtake Young Munster and clinch St Mary's second All Ireland League title.

"I was involved in the pitch invasion afterwards. It was like what it would feel like to win next weekend," laughed Sexton, ahead of the Heineken Cup semi-final on Sunday.

Leinster and Clermont-Auvergne have crossed swords once before in the play-offs, on the night Brock James went 'absent without leave' and Sexton played 80 minutes with what turned out to be a broken jaw at the RDS in April 2010.

"I have bittersweet memories. I broke my jaw or got my jaw broken, I should say. Obviously, I missed the game after that," recalled Sexton.

That was the time Leinster eked out a fortunate 29-28 victory over Vern Cotter's side, with a certain Joe Schmidt as his backs coach, only for Toulouse to do to Leinster in the south of France in May what Clermont threatened to do at the RDS that night.

"It was a great occasion and I was delighted to get the win. But, I was obviously off to hospital and missed out on the semis," rued Sexton.

"That was tough to take. I had to go over and watch the lads play Toulouse. In fairness, they pushed them all the way. You know, it comes down to small margins.

"I remember the ball got knocked out of Redser's (Eoin Reddan) hands going over the line in the first-half. It could have been so different if that score had gone in."

There are undeniable similarities to be drawn between Toulouse and Clermont-Auvergne, the two best clubs in France.

"It is pretty similar, isn't it? Almost everyone in their squad is an international. No matter who they play or no matter who's injured, they've got someone really good to play.

"It is like playing Toulouse. It is the same. They're probably the two teams in France that really go out and play, throw the ball around, play with tempo."


It took the old Leinster seven attempts before they managed their first away win in France. It came against Montferrand, as they were known back then, at Stade Marcel Michelin in December 2002.

"We have to take our experiences we have had over there in the past and learn from them. We haven't had too many wins over there and that day showed how hard it is to win in France."

Since 2002, Leinster have, in fact, carved out a more than respectable five wins out of 10 visits to France. The opinions vary widely on the likelihood of what will happen in Bordeaux next Sunday.

Cotter has already tagged Leinster as "almost unbeatable" in a very Roberto Mancini statement, designed to move the pressure onto the shoulders of the reigning European champions.

"We've had some tough games over the last few weeks. We've had Cardiff, Munster, Ulster. Those games have put us in good position," added Sexton.

"We probably haven't played our best, but we know we will have to be at our best. And we know it will have to be for 80 minutes, which is something we haven't done for, probably, all season.


"We've had bursts where we've put teams away and then, sort of, not had the ball but defended well.

"We have to be at our best with the ball and anytime they have it we have to be really switched on because they have some fantastic players, strike runners, athletes.

"We're going to a different venue. We think we can bring something different to this weekend. Everything depends on us putting in the performance that is within us."

Even then, there are no guarantees.