Wednesday 11 December 2019

Video: Schmidt insists favourites can 'live with the pressure'

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt knows that Jonathan Sexton (left) and Rob Kearney are vital to Leinster's bid for victory
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt knows that Jonathan Sexton (left) and Rob Kearney are vital to Leinster's bid for victory

Hugh Farrelly

LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt is convinced his side can overcome their injury concerns and "live with the pressure" of being favourites against Ulster in this evening's Heineken Cup final at a sold-out Twickenham.

Brian O'Driscoll did not take part in yesterday's captain's run after keyhole surgery on his knee last week, with flanker Sean O'Brien also rested for the short run-out.

Full-back Rob Kearney has been nursing a back injury, but did participate and was described as being "pretty comfortable" afterwards.

However, Schmidt declared that it was "pretty much 100pc" that both O'Driscoll and Kearney would be playing. "We are just managing a few guys. We didn't train Brian or Sean today, but Rob had a run," he said.

"He's feeling pretty comfortable and we are confident he will be out there with Brian. It is pretty much 100pc they will both be playing and there is no medical reason why they can't."

The all-Irish final has provided a welcome boost before Ireland's daunting three-Test tour to take on world champions New Zealand and, while the injury concerns have threatened Leinster's bid to claim back-to-back European titles, Schmidt is banking on a big display to quell the Ulster threat.

"Some of the wins Ulster have put together in this competition show what a threat they are. We were favourites last year and I don't think it helped. There is comfort in being underdogs, less expectation and less pressure, but if you can't live with the pressure then maybe you don't deserve the tag.

"We will find out if we are good enough. The preparation hasn't been ideal, but let's hope the performance can be."

Ulster's preparations for their first final in 13 years have been smooth compared to Leinster's, with coach Brian McLaughlin welcoming back prop John Afoa and flanker Chris Henry after suspension and injury respectively.

McLaughlin is facing into his last match in charge, with Ulster bringing in Mark Anscombe to replace him as coach next season, and he is hoping for the greatest day in his rugby career in front of 82,000 supporters.

"Saturday will be the pinnacle of my rugby career so far and I have no doubts that the Ulster side will show everyone in Europe what a quality team they are," said McLaughlin.

"It has been a while since both teams have been at full strength against each other and it should be a great occasion. It is going to be a record crowd for a Heineken Cup final, the biggest crowd an Ulster team has ever played in front of. It's great to be a part of things like that."

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