Belfast Telegraph

Heineken Cup: Heartbreak driving on Leinster in semi scrap

By Hugh Farrelly

Toulouse coach Guy Noves believes Leinster are in “scary” form heading into tomorrow's Heineken Cup semi-final showdown at Lansdowne Road with Shane Horgan claiming the Irish side are “willing to do anything” to replicate their European success of 2009.

Leinster made it to the last four of the Heineken Cup and the Magners League final last season only to be dumped out by Toulouse and the Ospreys respectively and the 32-year-old Horgan says the pain of those reverses will drive Joe Schmidt's men on.

“When you taste success you want to replicate it and you can really sense the same sense of desire that was around for our Heineken Cup-winning year,” said Horgan.

“The guys are willing to do anything to achieve that, especially having a trophy-less season last year — that really hurt. The season has gone quite well so far but it doesn't mean anything if you don't do it at the business end.”

Schmidt is happy with Leinster's build-up to tomorrow's showdown but, following his stint in the Top 14 with Clermont, is extremely aware of the threat posed by Toulouse.

“As good as the build-up has been, the proof is in the Saturday performance,” said Schmidt.

“I'm certainly happy with where we are, we are in a place where 20 other teams would love to be. When I was with Clermont there was a realisation that you could play really well against Toulouse and still get knocked over because someone could do something extraordinary.

“I'm not delighted to see them again but I am totally energised by the challenge and I know the team are,” added Schmidt.

His counterpart believes Leinster deserve to go into the tie as favourites and says they are a stronger outfit under Schmidt than the side Toulouse defeated last year.

“This Leinster team is scary,” said Noves. “It seems their training is a little stronger than last year and some players have strengthened their squad. I hope we raise our game to compete. We will try not to take a big hammering.”

Both sides announce their selections today with scrum-half Toulouse's main worry, where they are missing a clutch of experienced performers and Leinster likely to stick with the side that overcame Leicester in the quarter-final.

Munster also name their side to take on Harlequins in the Challenge Cup semi-final and, although the province confirmed yesterday that Paul O'Connell is in the mix for involvement despite not being named in the squad earlier this week, Mick O'Driscoll is expected to start in the second row.

Meanwhile, Northampton captain Dylan Hartley admits every week feels like a cup final at the moment as the Saints prepare for Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final against Perpignan.

The Saints have all-but secured their place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs after beating London Irish 26-20 over the Easter weekend, leaving the Exiles with a mountain to climb to overtake them in fourth spot.

Northampton are also the last remaining English side in the Heineken Cup and face Top 14 outfit Perpignan at stadium:mk this weekend.

More than 20,000 tickets have already been sold and Hartley believes the players are in a position to triumph, especially after last season's disappointment.

“If anything we are probably refocused now,” he said. “As a group we sat down and spoke about last year. We got to that point of a semi-final in the Premiership and a quarter-final in the Heineken Cup.

“Then within a week it was all over. No more games, see you next year. Luckily enough we are in the same position this year and we have refocused. Every week is like a cup final for us now. It is quite good to sit back and look at these games coming because if you don't win them you are off on holiday next week really.

“We have everything to play for and the motivation is there.”

Northampton have not reached the last four since defeat to Wasps in 2007 and will need to reproduce the form they showed to beat Ulster in the quarter-finals to progress to the Millennium Stadium showpiece.

Belfast Telegraph


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