Kevin McLaughlin insists there will be no-one in the Leinster camp thinking about next week’s Heineken Cup final until the business of Glasgow Warriors and the PRO12 play-offs have been dealt with this weekend.
Joe Schmidt’s side face the Scots in the semi-final of the RaboDirect at the RDS on Saturday knowing that a win would set them up for a shot at a unique league and cup double that narrowly evaded their grasp 12 months ago.
“We pride ourselves during the season on taking it one week at a time,” said McLaughlin who is one of those players on the borderline of the first XV as the season approaches its climax. “We’re pretty good at that — just focusing on the week ahead.
“We’ve worked really hard all season without the World Cup and the Six Nations guys at different times to get ourselves in the position of having a home semi-final. We’re very focused on winning this game and getting a home final.”
Schmidt has been rightly praised for his performance as coach this last two years. His influence on Leinster’s back play has been obvious and his ready smile belies a man who has no problem in laying it straight to players on the training paddock or in the video room.
Yet, it has been his ability to foster a genuine all-for-one team spirit among a large and talented group of players while changing the XV with abandon throughout the campaign that may rank as his greatest trick thus far.
“Yeah, he definitely keeps you on your toes,” said McLaughlin. “More than ever there’s an element here that no-one is ever fully set in their position. We have such quality here throughout the squad that guys know they have to perform to a certain level no matter what the game because they’ll have someone breathing down their neck ready to take their place. If you look at the guys we’ve had missing over the last couple of seasons through injury, yet things have never changed. It’s brilliant to have a guy as big as Brian O’Driscoll back but we kept winning while he was away. It’s a big boost when someone like that comes back into the squad but no matter who puts on the jersey I think we’ve maintained a high level to a certain degree and we’re really happy with that.”
That was demonstrated yet again last weekend when the league leaders came away from Rodney Parade with another win despite resting all 15 of those starters from the Heineken Cup semi-final against Clermont Auvergne in Bordeaux. Most of those will probably return to the 23 this Saturday and the European champions’ aspirations are being served further by an injury list that continues to belie the attrition rate associated with modern professional rugby. Isaac Boss is in contention again after sitting out the win against the Dragons with a minor knock while Eoin O’Malley’s persistently crook calf continues to be monitored ahead of Friday’s team announcement.
That leaves just Luke Fitzgerald definitely unavailable as the Ireland back prepares to have surgery on the neck injury that curtailed his season.
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