McLaughlin determined to fuel Leinster's high octane season
It did not have the same heightened sense of almost out of reach in that Leinster’s destiny was always in their own hands three years ago, but their 2009-10 meeting with French side Brive at the RDS is a reminder that Joe Schmidt does not have the monopoly over Michael Cheika in tense pool endings.
A bonus point in round five of that year’s competition became an imperative when Leinster lost their first match to London Irish and their grip on the Heineken Cup season seemed to loosen.
In the shadow of the opening defeat the team travelled to Brive, won a handsome 13-36 at Stadium Municipal and despite two tries from replacement Kevin McLaughlin (28) were one shy of the bonus point.
The return leg in round five at the RDS and Leinster scored less points in their 27-10 win but crucially earned a fourth try bonus point when cutting it fine when Brian O’Driscoll was sprung in the 79th minute.
“I wouldn’t say winning the match is irrelevant. Almost (irrelevant), fair enough,” said McLaughlin. Too modest to highlight his contribution in the first match, McLaughlin’s memory serves well to prop up the theory that Leinster are well equipped to keep to their side of the bargain in this potential Houdini act.
“Brive a few years ago? What happened that year? We lost our first game at home to London Irish and we beat Brive over there but we needed four tries as we were pushing for a home quarter-final,” he added.
“I think we scored a try towards the end. But I don’t think we’ve ever been in this tight a situation . . . I don’t think in my time in Leinster. There is definitely an element of extra pressure there. No doubt.”
There is belief in the squad that the numbers can crunch and part of that comes from the fear of a season shorn of the high octane the team has become used to. Back doors into the Amlin Challenge and Pro 12 matches provide decent drama but they are a bloodline beneath the European classic level.
“There’s an element of the season almost starting now or almost ending now. As a team we don’t like the thought of being out of Europe in January,” said McLaughlin.
“We kind of look at January as the make-or-break month for the team. Obviously the Rabo is starting to pick up now. We always concentrate hard on that. We’re a team that has been at the top of Europe for the last few years and want to stay there.
“It becomes harder every year because teams are trying to topple you and we’ve learned that this year, where Clermont outfought us in a couple of games. We’ve put ourselves in this position now so it’s going to be very much a case of hopefully our season is starting because we desperately don’t want it to end.”
In round two Leinster travelled to Parc y Scarlets and took a satisfying 13-20 win back to Dublin. What might cement their confidence on the issue of a four-try win on Saturday is the intel squirreled away as much as the score.