Bernard Jackman has likened the Leinster squad to the All Blacks, praising the insatiable hunger that has them in a third Heineken Cup final in four seasons.
Leicester are the only team to have retained the European title and emulating that feat is an obvious motivation for Joe Schmidt’s side. At the base of it all though, is a pursuit of excellence which is driven by the players themselves, most of whom Jackman knows from his time with the club.
“These guys are very hungry for silverware,” says Jackman, a key member of the side that finally broke Leinster’s Heineken Cup duck in 2009.
“Last year they were very disappointed they didn’t do the double. I actually think it’s very achievable this year. I think if they win the Heineken Cup they won’t celebrate until after the Rabo final. That’s coming from the players. Joe (Schmidt) is a phenomenal coach and his back-up staff is brilliant, but they would say themselves they’re only steering the bus. The players are driving it. You could see that when Jamie Heaslip was very critical about how they played after the semi-final when everyone else was saying how well they did. As professional rugby players, they only enjoy it for 10 minutes and then straight away reset their goals. That’s what the All Blacks do. You become completely driven by the pleasure in succeeding.
“When you get into that mentality, it helps you win games you don’t deserve to win. Other teams look at you and think ‘those lads are driven’ and when it comes to the last five minutes, they’re nearly expecting you to come back at them. It’s a culture.”
Jackman expects that to pay dividends on Saturday with more silverware. But he is predicting a mammoth challenge from Ulster.
“They don’t have to be better than Leinster over the course of a season. They only need to be better than them now for one game. That’s why it’s very exciting. Ulster need to take the mentality of hit-and-run. Their objective must be to get in there and win it. No-one’s going to look back in years to come and say ‘Leinster played great rugby that year’ or ‘Leinster had a great game against Clermont’. It’s about who has the cup. Leinster have more talent than Ulster but in interpro matches, in finals, it doesn’t matter. I don’t think it’s going to be a one-sided game. I think it will be very tight.”
Ultimately, Jackman expects Leinster’s firepower to prevail, even if Ulster’s committed play at the breakdown forces them to live off scraps.
“Ulster have a good spine to their team. (Ruan) Pienaar is an unbelievable kicker who doesn’t get fazed by the occasion. So I can see Ulster try to play a territorial game and take the points on offer. Having said that, I can see Leinster scoring tries and I think that’s what will get them over the line. Everyone talks about Leinster playing attacking rugby (but) they’re very detailed on the breakdown and ball-carry. If Ulster don’t stop that at source and the back row don’t make big tackles, I don’t think you can stop Leinster scoring tries out wide.”
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