THE FINISHING LINE is in sight.
That much was clear from the hordes that descended upon Leinster’s rare indoor media outing at UCD.
The reason for the change, just that. Training moved from Dublin to Enfield as a break from the norm for this very unfamiliar situation which the European champions find themselves.
“It’s not ideal to be chasing a situation like we are,” says Sean Cronin, “but we know that fate is in our own hands and we have to put in a performance to try and get as much as we can out of the game.
“But we can’t get too ahead of ourselves. Scarlets are a top quality side; you can see by their form in the Rabo that they’ve incredibly good backs, dangerous all over the place. So, we’re just concentrating on getting the win first and foremost.”
Last month, the hooker was linked with a return to Connacht in the summer when his current Leinster deal expires, but with two do-or-die Heineken Cup games on the way, Cronin attempted to dead-bat the questions away.
“My own future is sorted and there’ll be an announcement made in the next couple of weeks,” he said, before the issue was further pressed and his overplayed poker-face raised the first laugh from those huddled behind the TV cameras – including his team manager Guy Easterby.
“There’ll be an announcement in the next couple of weeks.”
After back-to-back losses to Clermont, there were few, if any, glimmers of hope around Leinster’s wish to defend their European title a second time.
However, with Saturday’s return of Lions trio; Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald, the winter solstice feels a very long time ago indeed. And, Cronin says, Leinster are confident of stretching their fine run in this competition further still.
“We’d back ourselves in any situation and you have to have confidence with guys coming back in who are very experienced and they’re only going to boost the squad moral and we’re looking forward to the challenge in front of us.”
Of the returning superstars, he adds: “It’s great to have players of their calibre and experience coming back and their Heineken Cup experience is invaluable to us. It’s great to have them back and it’s a good morale boost to the side that’s needed for this weekend.”
Despite the Welsh side’s second half mauling at Ravenhill this past weekend (and the fact that they are already out of the Heineken Cup) Cronin was keen to point to a side who have plenty of danger to pose behind the scrum.
“They’re too dangerous a side to look past and talking about five points. It’s about getting the win, because they’re the type of team that can score from anywhere, make line breaks. They’ve got very good backs, the likes of Jonathan Davies George North, if he plays, these type of guys are world class.”
Michael Bent training in Enfield. ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Many a calculator will be bashed between now and January 20 with projected figures torn up and new ones entered to see which teams will form the final top eight from the pools. Asked if he had tried to work out the likely scenarios himself Cronin paused seeming to accept the charge before saying:
“We just know that if we manage to get as many points as we can out of two games then there is a realistic chance of qualifying.
“There’s plenty of permutations, but if you don’t get the win first and foremost everything is gone out the window. It’s just vitally important we get a result ourselves and a performance. We’ll see what happens on Saturday, it’s exciting we’re all looking forward to it.”
Expectations may have been lowered outside the team boundaries, but within this group a steely resolve remains. And they appear to be relishing the severe test and pressure to perform that is afoot.
“That’s the great thing about the Heineken cup, there’s pressure every week.” the hooker concludes. Every game is must-win and this week is no different.
“It’s a good challenge and that’s the type of thing that gets the squad excited. There’s a buzz there – I know it sounds weird, but – pressure brings that kind of buzz in an important week like this when guys are looking forward to hitting the training ground and getting ready for this weekend.”
Maybe, just maybe, the finish line is some way off yet.