McGeechan warns Leinster face an uphill Euro battle
IAN McGEECHAN believes champions Leinster will be up against the "best team in the competition" when they take on Clermont Auvergne in their Heineken Cup quarter-final.
Leinster visit Munster in the Magners League on Friday and host Clermont the following weekend, and McGeechan, who took charge of Leinster stars such as Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip on the Lions tour to South Africa, believes Michael Cheika's men face a monumental challenge.
"If Clermont beat Leinster, it could be the making of them because I think they are the best team in the competition," said McGeechan, who led Wasps to European glory in 2007.
The French side have never won the Heineken Cup and are perennial bridesmaids in the domestic Top 14, but McGeechan says, just as Leinster's self-belief blossomed after their quarter-final win over Harlequins last season, Clermont have the ability to go all the way this time.
"They are the sort of team that if they get a big quarter-final win, you can see them relaxing and going to the semi-final and being on a different level. You look at the difference in Leinster after they won those games last season -- they grew as a team," he said.
Munster face a tough quarter-final against McGeechan's old club Northampton but the Scot believes Tony McGahan's side have the experience and mental strength to come through against a team that nearly derailed them in the pool stages.
"Nous is the most important quality in this competition and Munster are the example," said McGeechan. "Having that nous is vital, to qualify and then knowing how to win when you get to the knock-out stages."
McGeechan also had words of encouragement for Declan Kidney, whose Triple Crown hopes were ruined by Scotland.
"Declan Kidney has worked his players very well," he said. "The World Cup is still more than 12 months away and Ireland are settled: you could probably select a team without a lot of trouble. That's the sort of stability that all coaches would like.
"They responded to the defeat in Paris very well and they will look hard at what happened in the last game against Scotland but, in general, they have got stability. I don't think there's any question of a waning team -- you just have to give credit to Scotland for being pretty astute."
McGeechan was one of a number of distinguished figures meeting in London yesterday to select the ERC15 Awards nominees, marking 15 years of European club competition. He was joined by among others Lawrence Dallaglio, Fabien Galthie, Ieuan Evans and Ireland's Donal Lenihan on a panel that will also select the overall winners.
Four Irishmen -- Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara and David Wallace -- were among the nine nominees for the European Player Award which will honour the best player of the past 15 years. Despite having seen just one season of Heineken Cup action, Australian Rocky Elsom was also nominated, following his pivotal role in Leinster's triumph last year.
Kidney was one of five names up for the coaching award after guiding Munster to the title in 2006 and 2008. Geordan Murphy, David Humphreys, Peter Stringer, Peter Clohessy, John Hayes, Jerry Flannery, Keith Wood, Alan Quinlan and Jamie Heaslip were the other Irishmen nominated for the ERC Dream Team.
The award winners will be announced on the eve of the final, which will be played on May 22.