Lancaster sees positive mindset as key to win

Stuart Lancaster doesn’t need telling that the end result is everything.
Lancaster sees positive mindset as key to win

ASM CLERMONT V LEINSTER

Sunday: Mamut Stadium de Gerland, Lyon, 3pm

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

TV: Sky Sports

Bet: Clermont 7/10 Leinster 6/5 Draw 25/1

The Cumbrian coach spent four years turning England around after the nadir that was the 2011 World Cup but a failure to claim a single Six Nations title and the disaster at the global gathering on home soil two years ago combined to ensure that his tenure would be branded a failure.

“As I learned, it is all about winning,” he said yesterday.

That’s especially true when it comes to Champions Cup semi-finals. No-one will carp if Leinster squeeze through in an attritional borefest when they face Clermont Auvergne in Lyon this Sunday but Lancaster knows that the province will have to play with more adventure than that.

The three-time Heineken Cup champions won just one pool game and scored only five tries in the process last season but they are a team transformed in the Champions Cup this time around having topped Pool 4 and posting 31 tries.

This rediscovered flair was obvious in the quarter-final against Wasps when Leo Cullen’s side embraced adventure and opportunism and came away with four tries in a 32-17 win against the Aviva Premiership leaders.

That was at the Aviva.

Sunday’s semi, under a two-hour drive east of Clermont, will be a virtual home game for their opponents but the Englishman believes the province will have to mirror the approach taken in the last round to come through.

“I think you’ve got to, really. You’ve got to be aware when you’re playing any team in France not to give them a start,” said Lancaster. “That allows them to build momentum and belief in their game.

“But there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that if we have a positive mindset to play the game from the first to the 80th minute that we can cause some problems. We saw that, both in the qualifying rounds but also in the Pro12 as well. We wouldn’t have scored 86 tries (in the league) by accident.” A light injury load is helping.

Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Jordi Murphy remain long-term absentees but the only downside to the win over Connacht in Galway last Saturday seems to be the ankle Dave Kearney injured.

Jack Conan, the preferred deputy for Heaslip at No.8, sat out the Sportsground tie with the neck injury he had suffered against the Ospreys but Lancaster declared himself to be “pretty optimistic” on his chances of featuring in France.

It would be wrong to continue here without making mention of Mike McCarthy.

The former Ireland lock hasn’t been fit since the start of March but confirmation yesterday that he has had surgery on a disc in his back means he has played his last game for the province as he joins Narbonne on a two-year deal this summer.

Clermont have more in the way of injury issues.

Noa Naikataci, Wesley Fofana and Isai Tovea were all confirmed absentees before this week but winger Adrien Planté is now doubtful after injuring a thigh 47 minutes into the side’s 59-18 destruction of Grenoble at the Stade des Alpes at the weekend.

More worrying is the uncertainty over three key forwards — Sebastien Vahaamahina (shoulder), Davit Kirashvili (ankle) and Benjamin Kayser (knee) — the latter two having suffered their knocks in the Champions Cup quarter-final defeat of Toulon.

The French side has blown hot and cold of late, winning four and losing as many again of their last eight games, but they are in a European semi-final, sit second in the Top 14 table and, as Lancaster explained, possess players “with X-factor” all over the park.

So do Leinster.

Only six of the squad that scraped past Clermont in a semi-final in Bordeaux back in 2012 are in line to feature this week, and no more than eight of the 23 that lost out to Toulon two years ago at this stage after extra-time at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome.

Yet if there are any doubts as to the quality available to Cullen and Lancaster they should be put to one side tomorrow when anything up to six or seven of their players could be named as part of Warren Gatland’s Lions squad.

“I just think the belief that we have got in the team, the quality of players that we have got… We have got a lot of players here who, hopefully during the course of the week, will be announced as Lions. You’ve got quite a few in the mix, really,” said Lancaster.

“You’ve got a lot of international players and a lot of talented young players who perhaps haven’t played in these big European games but have demonstrated consistently this season that they can step up. We certainly believe we can do well in this game.”

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