Joe Schmidt previews Heineken Cup final

Updated: May 17, 2012

Despite having guided Leinster into both a domestic and European final for the second time in two seasons, Joe Schmidt remains utterly grounded and has only eyes on one thing. Where the next win is coming from.

The driven kiwi stands on the edge of making history with Leinster as they not only look to become only the second team since Leicester to retain the Heineken Cup, but should Leinster also defeat the Ospreys a week on Sunday then they will have completed their first domestic/ European cup double.

While Leinster are two games away from their own slice of history, Schmidt knows all to well just what kind of challenge Ulster will present the defending Heineken Cup champions on Saturday afternoon.

“Ulster are another side we know really well. A lot of the boys have played together in green jerseys but now they are in white or blue. They will combat each other to an extent.

“In last year’s final, Northampton played superbly in the first half and we didn’t take our opportunities. We made three clean line-breaks and gave the ball straight back to them. They dominated us in the first 40 minutes.

“We can’t afford to do that with Ulster, especially when you look at their quarter-final victory over Munster. If it wasn’t for a superb opening 20 minutes, Munster would have won comfortably.

“We can’t let a team with that kicking ability, with Ruan Pienaar, Ian Humphreys or Paddy Jackson and Stefan Terblanche in their ranks, get a lead like that. Ulster are a team that can keep you under pressure because of their kicking game and they can also exert pressure on your platforms.”

Having watched Ulster defeat Edinburgh 24 hours before Leinster tackled Clermont in their semi final, Schmidt is wary of one human wrecking ball that could easily derail the Leinster express. Namely Stephen Ferris.

“Stephen makes a big impact in big matches – because they’re the only ones he plays! They save him, wrap him in cotton wool and he comes back to play massive games.

“He had a fantastic Six Nations and there is a lot of respect from our loose forwards towards him. They have all played with him on occasions and speak very highly of him.

“He’s a complete player. He has a good offloading game, he attacks players, but knows when to pass, although more often than not he just makes a hole in defenders. He’s also good in the line-out and adds some steel to their mauls.”

Schmidt may be aware of the dangers that Ulster possess. however he knows all to well that he has some dangerous strike weapons of his own that he is ready to unleash.

Since coming back from a horrific knee injury Rob Kearney’s form has seen him become the best full back in European rugby, if not world rugby and Schmidt knows just how valuable Kearney is to Leinster.

“Initially we created a few plays just to get him on the ball. He is a real asset to us. He has a really good mix with an excellent long-kicking game. He has the ability to nail drop goals, as we saw in Bordeaux, and he’s really good in aerial battles and has a fantastic short passing game.”

Having missed the pool stages of the Heineken Cup, how much of a benefit is having Brian O’Driscoll back in the ranks at such a crucial juncture of the season?

“When he came back he was really up for it. He felt the pressure coming on because of the way Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy and Eoin O’Malley had battled in his absence, but he has done really well.

“In the semi-final he started with a good first contact on Aurelien Rougerie, where he closed down the space and manhandled a guy a lot bigger than him. He was determined to carry on in that way after making that early statement.”

O’Driscoll like Schmidt is determined to keep making statements and they hope the next only will be that, come Saturday night, Leinster are three time Heineken Cup champions.

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