Leinster coach Joe Schmidt won’t be pitching his mind forward to the Heineken Cup final or a potential Magners League Grand Final when he sits down to pick his team for Friday night’s semi-final clash with Ulster at the RDS.
In age old sports coach speak, Schmidt is insisting his players “take each game as it comes” as they try to round off a spectacular first season under his expert guidance by doing a domestic league and European Cup double.
“At this stage it is only about managing two games, because we don’t know if we will make it into the Magners League Grand Final. If we go on to make it three games then we will glue together what’s left,” said Schmidt.
“There is a risk of taking your eye off the ball because of the Heineken Cup final the following week, but we have to take each game as it comes. It is imperative to concentrate on this game and not to look too far ahead.
“There is excitement and a good competitive element in the group. I don’t know the team, but it won’t be too far off our top squad – we will play horses for courses.
“We haven’t conceded a match all season at RDS and we are very focussed on continuing that record. We know there is no advantage to either team at this stage of the season and, even though we have beaten Ulster twice this season, in the last 30 minutes of both fixtures they have had the better of us.”
Even though Schmidt has led Leinster to the brink of a unique double, the Kiwi was pipped to the Magners League Coach of the Year title by Aussie rival Tony McGahan at Munster.
Munster also took the Gilbert Golden Boot, for Ronan O’Gara’s consistency in the goalkicking stakes, and the Chairman’s Award, handed to the retiring Alan Quinlan for his outstanding 15 year career.
Leinster skipper Leo Cullen picked up a cheque for £10,000 to put towards youth development after his side ended at the top of the Specsavers Fairplay League, devised to reward the most disciplined team in the league, while Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar carried off the prestigious ‘Player’s Player of the Year’ title after an outstanding first season in Belfast.
Leinster won the Specsavers Fairplay League and now want more awards
But the most important prize, the Magners League trophy itself, is still up for grabs and the bookies are backing Schmidt to go head-to-head with McGahan in the Grand Final
on Saturday,28 May.
“This is a great position to be in because there are eight teams in the Magners League whose seasons are over. It might be nice being able to head away on holiday early, but that’s not really what anyone wants because it means you are out of the fight,” admitted Schmidt.
“The good thing for us is that four or five weeks ago we didn’t think we were going to make it into the Play-Offs. But we picked up, and other results went our way, and we have ended with a home game against Ulster in the semi-finals.
“Some of the guys weren’t as good as they should have been against Glasgow in the first half last weekend – and certainly not as good as they will need to be this weekend. We worked things out in the second half, but we can’t wait that long against Ulster.
“The big difference about playing Ulster now, compared to a few weeks ago, is there is something at stake because it is a knock-out situation. Neither side really needed to win that game and Ulster were on a down after losing to Northampton Saints in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
“We went into that game with real momentum having beaten Leicester Tigers, but we know they will be more desperate and more determined when they come to Dublin on Friday.”
Ulster will start as rank outsiders as much because of the injuries that have forced Stephen Ferris, Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble out of the running, as the fact they have lost all nine Magners League clashes with Leinster in Dublin.
This season the boys in blue marched up to Ravenhill and won 30-13 on 27 December and then emerged with the double as they won 34-26 at RDS on 16 April.
Magners League Play-Off details:
Play-Off 1: MUNSTER (1) vs OSPREYS (4)
Venue: Thomond Park, Limerick
Date: Saturday, 14 May (Kick-Off 18:30)
Play-Off 2: LEINSTER (2) V ULSTER (3)
Venue: RDS, Dublin
Date: Friday, 13 May (Kick-Off 19:05)
The winners of the Play-Off matches, which will be played at the home venues of the top two finishing sides in the regular Magners League table, will then meet in the Magners League Grand Final on Saturday, 28 May (Kick-Off 17:05).
The venue of the second Magners League Grand Final will be determined by the results of the semi-finals.
The honour of staging the Grand Final will go to the team that has the highest regular season league ranking once the two finalists are known ie Munster if they win their game or the winners of the second semi-final.
Information on ticketing for both semi-finals and the Magners League Grand Final will be available on the respective club websites and also here on magnersleague.com by clicking here.