Guy Noves once described winning the double of the European Cup and the French Championship as "impossible". His own club, Toulouse, had done it under his watch in the inaugural European season of 1995-96, but they only had to beat four teams, Farul Constanta, Treviso, Swansea and Cardiff to do so.
But since the introduction of the home and away pool format two seasons later, only four teams have managed the feat. Leicester did so twice, in 2000-01 and 2001-02, and Wasps emulated them in 2004, before Toulon did the double in 2014 and Saracens two years ago. No Irish team has ever done it.
Back in 2011 and 2012, a week after Leinster won European Cup finals against Northampton and Ulster, they had to face Munster and the Ospreys in League finals at Thomond Park and the RDS. Mentally and emotionally, as much as physically, it was a huge challenge, and they were denied the double in turn.
For the first of them, Joe Schmidt – understandably of a desire to give his champion side another game – made three changes, all enforced, as Shane Jennings, Heinke van der Merew and Fergus McFadden replaced Sean O'Brien, Cian Healy and Gordon D'Arcy.
For the second he made four, with van der Merwe and Jennings again replacing Healy and O'Brien, while Sean Cronin and Richardt Strauss rotated at hooker, as did Devin Toner and Brad Thorn at lock.
In advance's of Saturday's Guinness PRO 14 semi-final sell-out at the RDS (kick-off 3.15pm), Leinster are taking heed of those warnings, as well as more recent ones, admitted scrum coach John Fogarty on Monday.
“We were talking about that this morning. We sat down and talked about that. Do we need to freshen it up? The decisions won’t be made fully until tomorrow at least; I’d say even in Leo’s mind. I think they’re really good examples. This year we’ve also come off big wins and we went away to Ospreys and got done. We went away to Connacht and got done, so there’s huge lessons that we’ve learned this year as a group.”
It was also part of Stuart Lancaster’s review of last Saturday’s final on Monday. “It’s going to be a test for us at the weekend from that side of things. Can we get it done now? Can we get it done after we’ve won this thing [the European Cup]? Where’s the group at? I’ve a feeling that the group are really, really hungry to succeed again.
“Isa [Nacewa] is a huge part of that again. He’s got two games left. Two games and that’s it. So there’s still a huge hunger in someone like Isa to get on the field this weekend and get a result. Hopefully we can get it done.”
Their hand will be forced to a degree as Robbie Henshaw has been ruled out due to the knee injury he sustained in Bilbao on Saturday. The extent of his injury will become clearer pending further tests this week, but Henhsaw's participation in Ireland's tour of Australia must also be imperilled.
“He’ll have to get imaged and they’ll know a lot more after that,” said Fogarty. “Even though he’s got an injury and is going to be out at the weekend, he would have enjoyed the weekend. They’ll image and assess to see if he can catch some rugby at the end of the season. He looked very stiff and uncomfortable, but again I don’t know the term, the length of time or the grade. It’s pretty early.”
Nacewa himself has also undergone scans on the calf injury he sustained in the European final, and he will be assessed further this week ahead of selection at the weekend. Johnny Sexton’s groin strain, sustained when miscuing a penalty from half-way, has not required a scan, but he must too be considered a doubt.
Reflecting on Saturday’s hard-earned 15-12 win, Fogarty said: “At the breakdown we were slowed down. They [Racing] got into us physically. That’s something we need to be ready for at the weekend, because you look at Edinburgh against Munster, they were ferocious in some of their contacts. Then, into the breakdown, it slows you down, and now you’re in a grind. You need to be smart in how you kick. That’s coming again for us, that review of the final is very important for us today.”
Focus the minds
That Munster are next up should focus the minds, although when asked if that was lucky, Fogarty smiled. “I don’t know if lucky is the right word, we’ve got Munster in the RDS and we don’t often play Munster in the RDS. It’s important that we represent this club in the right way at the weekend. It’ll be a tough game.”
Reflecting also on that difficult first year, 2015-16, for the new coaching ticket, when Fogarty also came aboard as scrum coach and specifically “the Bath game when the scrum got destroyed”, he said: “You do, unfortunately, think about those days, and it makes the weekend very, very special. For us as a group there was huge relief at the end of the game. For the playing group, they expect to be fighting for trophies, and there was huge satisfaction at the weekend, which was great.
“Sometimes there has to be the lows to get to where you want to get to. In 2009 we lost that Castres away game and the lady boys comments were flying about the place so there was a great hunger in the group. We’ve taken lessons from Scarlets last year, losing at the RDS in the semi-final and losing in the semi-final against Clermont. A lot of these things have built up to this point where we’ve gained experience and learnt on how to deliver on the big day.”