Joe Schmidt has all but accepted the shift of power from Ireland to France after back-to-back Heineken Cup defeats by Clermont Auvergne.
Leinster’s head coach took little consolation from a dark day at the Aviva, although Fergus McFadden’s last minute try secured what could yet prove a priceless losing bonus point.
But with a target of 20 points in the pool, Schmidt is far from sure his charges will secure that figure in their desperate bid to make the knockout stages as one of two best pool runners-up.
“Yeah, it has (points total) fluctuated traditionally but I can’t see Exeter or Scarlets coming along to us and saying you deserve five (points), I think anything you get from either of those teams you’re going to have to grab and be good to do it,” he said.
With Leinster’s injury woes mounting, Schmidt won’t have much time to dwell on this defeat, knowing unbeaten RaboDirect leaders Ulster lie in wait this weekend, when he’ll have to plan without Richard Strauss, Isa Nacewa and Shane Jennings, all of whom were replaced on Saturday.
Ultimately, Schmidt believes their huge injury toll played a major role in this double defeat by a team now installed as favourites to succeed Leinster as champions of Europe.
“I think we are a little bit unlucky in the injury toll that we’ve got,” said Schmidt, who pointed to Clermont’s strength in depth as being a key factor in securing the two wins. “As I said at the start of the back-to-back games, if you lose (Aurelien) Rougerie you put Regan King, an ex-All Black, in there, if you lose (Wesley) Fofana you put another All Black, Benson Stanley, in there.”
Describing Clermont as “a hell of a team,” Schmidt praised his charges for their effort in the face of massive pressure: “I’ve got nothing but respect for the group of guys who went out there and played their hearts out and managed to hang in for long periods in the game. Clermont are a hell of a team, they’re a great team.”
Accepting the inevitability that Clermont will top the group, Schmidt hailed his former club for a marked improvement on last week. “We might have out-thought them last week (in France), but you’ve got to think on your feet about the power that they bring. If they get access to the game they’re going to be incredibly hard to stop. Morgan (Parra) kicked superbly, as he did last week, and that in the end proved the difference between the teams.”
Schmidt now faces the task of lifting the mood in the camp in advance of a visit to Ravenhill and he accepts it will be hard: “We’ve lost another couple of guys (to injury) and there are some very, very, tired boys in there (dressing room) at the moment. I guess that’s a massive challenge for us to pick ourselves up from where we are, both mentally and physically, it is going to be massive particularly having to go up to Ravenhill against one of the form teams in Europe at the moment. They’ve got guys who start for Ireland who can’t get a run there, they’ve got that kind of competitiveness in their squad which is a great thing to have and Ulster are the sort of team that would have to be considered (Heineken Cup) contenders.”
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