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Schmidt cautious ahead of title defence

Leinster will begin their quest to make Heineken Cup history on Saturday - but head coach Joe Schmidt is not looking beyond the pool stage of this season's competition.

Even for a team of Leinster's pedigree, there is no guarantee they will progress from a group that also includes French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne, seasoned European campaigners the Scarlets and impressive tournament newcomers Exeter.

Exeter are first up for Schmidt's team in Dublin this weekend and with only one team from Pool Five likely to secure a quarter-final berth, Schmidt knows the pressure is on. He said: "It is such a competitive pool that I think only one team will qualify for the quarter-finals, so I am not thinking about anything beyond our first match against Exeter."

The ultimate prize for Leinster this term is a third successive Heineken Cup final triumph, a glorious hat-trick that no other team during the tournament's 18-year existence has managed.

Leinster also won the competition in 2009, beating Leicester at Murrayfield, and they are the bookmakers' favourites to be crowned champions on home soil in Dublin next May.

But Schmidt said: "Right now, our sole initial target is to get out of the group.

"We have not played Exeter before but we are fully expecting them to be both extremely combative and expansive.

"They are a really positive outfit and in Ignacio Mieres they have a fine fly-half who can vary the team's game as necessary.

"Centre Jason Shoemark is another in top form and Wallaby Dean Mumm - a very athletic lock and genuine international-class player - has now arrived at the club and is sure to be a big player for them.

"Their coach Rob Baxter has done a great job in first getting them promoted and then taking them storming through the English league and into the Heineken Cup for the first time."


From Belfast Telegraph