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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 22 October, 2014

3 battles Leinster need to win to reach the Heineken Cup 1/4 finals

Scoring four tries would be a good start. Winning won be a perfect finalé.

Brian O'Driscoll looking to defy the career eulogists again.
Brian O'Driscoll looking to defy the career eulogists again.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

THE ERC SEND out a lovely match pack to journalists in the lead-up to the big Heineken Cup fixtures – it is what makes us all sound so knowledgeable as we are trying to figure out who put a grubby hand into a ruck or dropped a knee while scrambling for breakdown ball.

The match pack for Leinster v Exeter Chiefs gives glimpses of hope and face slaps of reality.

Leinster have only failed to make the last eight once [2007/08] in the last eight seasons and have won their last seven matches against English opponents.

Exeter have lost their last two games at Sandy Park but have not lost three home games in a row since 2006. They have also beaten Harlequins and Saracens at home, in the league, this season.

Add the precarious quarter-final caveat of four tries being needed, most likely, for qualification and hope is all most Leinster supporters are living in.

Here are three battles that should determine whether Joe Schmidt’s quest for three Heineken Cups in a row will carry on into April and beyond.

Go hard, score first

Leinster conceded an early penalty to Scarlets last week but, when there first penalty opportunity came, they kicked for the corner. They won that set-piece and tested the Welsh line four times before Cian Healy burrowed over.

A similar, brave start is required in foreign territory and it will be interesting to see if Jonathan Sexton goes for points or the sideline when the Blues get the first whistle in their favour.

All of sudden – aide no doubt by the returning stars such as Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll – Leinster have some swagger back. It would not be surprising to see them take the fight to the Chiefs early.

Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien will be deployed as the men to punch holes up the middle with Sexton revelling in his playmaking role and wingers encouraged to chase down every kick sent high or into the corners.

If Leinster can get a try in the opening minutes, they should have the class to create further scoring opportunities at regular intervals.

Run them into the ground

Another fitness fillip for Schmidt is the fact that he now has a bench that he trusts.

Sean Cronin and Rhys Ruddock were excellent against Scarlets last weekend and are unfortunate to drop down to the replacements.

Fergus McFadden was Leinster’s best player in the double header against Clermont Auvergne.

Having the versatile back, as well as Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan, means Leinster can keep up a relentless pace and hope to wear down an English side that are looking battle-weary after their first campaign in the top tier of European competition.

The Exeter bench - featuring the likes of Jack Yeandle and Will Chudley – will not scare Leinster.

Chase it until they deposit the ball in Row Z

Leinster have only been forced to chase a bonus point try to reach the quarter final on one occasion in the past decade and they achieved it.

The trick against Bath, in January 2006, was a lightning start and early scores.

If plans A and B do not transpire, it would be worth noting the extraordinary efforts of inter-pro rivals Munster.

On three occasions in four seasons – 2003 to 2006 – Munster got the fourth, bonus-point try in either injury time or with five minutes to go.

If in doubt, borrow the neighbour’s copybook and replicate. I don’t know if that counts as a ‘cheat’ in the sporting dictionary.

Heineken Cup Explainer: What Leinster and Munster need to do to reach 1/4 finals

Heineken Cup Cheat Sheet: your guide to this weekend’s rugby action

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