/ Rugby

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt looks at Northampton lesson

Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2012 14:11 | Comments

Jonny Sexton brought Leinster back from the brink in last year's final at the Millennium Stadium
Jonny Sexton brought Leinster back from the brink in last year's final at the Millennium Stadium

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt will look to last year’s first-half performance in the Heineken Cup final to help him prepare for Saturday’s clash with Ulster.

Schmidt’s side were outclassed in the opening forty minutes at the Millennium Stadium by Northampton, who took a 22-6 half-time lead.

Leinster faced a near-impossible second-half task but managed to overturn the 16-point deficit to enjoy a 33-22 victory in Wales.

And Schmidt knows that Saturday’s opponents Ulster would not allow his side back into the game if they were to take a similar lead at Twickenham.

Schmid said: "Ulster are another side we know really well. A lot of the boys have played together in green jerseys but now they are in white or blue. They will combat each other to an extent.

"In last year's final, Northampton played superbly in the first half and we didn't take our opportunities. We made three clean line-breaks and gave the ball straight back to them. They dominated us in the first 40 minutes.

"We can't afford to do that with Ulster, especially when you look at their quarter-final victory over Munster. If it wasn't for a superb opening 20 minutes, Munster would have won comfortably.

“We can't let a team with that kicking ability, with Ruan Pienaar, Ian Humphreys or Paddy Jackson and Stefan Terblanche in their ranks, get a lead like that. Ulster are a team that can keep you under pressure because of their kicking game and they can also exert pressure on your platforms.

“John Afoa, Tom Court and Rory Best have done a great job for them in the front row; Johann Muller calls the line-outs and Stephen Ferris and Pedrie Wannenburg both add a lot. If we allow them to get a good start and build a lead it will be a pretty tough job for us to get back into the game.”

And Schmidt sees Ireland international Ferris as one of the main reasons behind Ulster’s success this season and a player that is likely to play a big part in Saturday’s decider.

Schmidt added: “He makes a big impact in big matches - because they're the only ones he plays. They save him, wrap him in cotton wool and he comes back to play massive games.

“He had a fantastic Six Nations and there is a lot of respect from our loose forwards towards him. They have all played with him on occasions and speak very highly of him.

“He's a complete player. He has a good offloading game, he attacks players, but knows when to pass, although more often than not he just makes a hole in defenders. He's also good in the line-out and adds some steel to their mauls.”

Looking at his Leinster side ahead of Saturday’s final, Schmidt will be hoping a fit Brian O’Driscoll can make a big impact having missed several matches early in the season.

Schmidt said: “He didn't play in the pool matches, which were pretty tough going, and he felt the pressure coming on because of the way Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy and Eoin O'Malley had battled in his absence. When he came back he was really up for it.

“In the semi-final he started with a good first contact on Aurelien Rougerie, where he closed down the space and manhandled a guy a lot bigger than him. He was determined to carry on in that way after making that early statement.”

Last year’s victory was, in a large part, attributed to Jonny Sexton’s influential half-time team talk. And Schmidt has explained the control that the Ireland fly-half has on his Leinster side.

He added: “He is the general who runs our game. He's a quality goalkicker and it's very easy to rely on him when he is kicking at 90 per cent, as he is this season.

“He's very good out of hand and, against Ulster at Ravenhill, he was kicking massive touch finders. He has an excellent passing game and to judge his defence you only have to look at his hit on Jamie Cudmore in the final play against Clermont on our line.”

Rob Kearney is another who Schmidt believes will have a major influence at Twickenham on Saturday.

The Leinster coach said: “He is a real asset to us. He has a really good mix with an excellent long-kicking game. He has the ability to nail drop goals, as we saw in Bordeaux, and he's really good in aerial battles and has a fantastic short passing game.

"We felt we put ourselves under more pressure than we needed to (in Bordeaux). We played off four out of 12 line-outs and as soon as you don't get that platform it's very tough to be competitive.

“After half-time we had a clearer plan that worked well. We were more conservative than usual, but kept very good control.

“We always knew they would have one last shot at us and we would have to measure up to that. We didn't quite manage to do that, but then Wesley Fofana didn't quite manage to get the ball down. We were a bit fortuitous at the finish.”

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