Heaslip demands more from Leinster
April 9, 2010
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip celebrates scoring a try at the RDS © Getty Images
Leinster's two-try hero Jamie Heaslip believes his side have to raise their game if they want to retain their Heineken Cup crown.
The rampaging No.8 inspired the Irish province to a narrow 29-28 victory over Clermont Auvergne in their quarter-final clash at the RDS with fly-half Jonathan Sexton landing the winning penalty with eight minutes to go before Clermont fly-half Brock James squandered a simple last-gasp drop-goal opportunity.
Leinster now face either Toulouse or Stade Francais, who meet on Sunday, in the semi-finals and man of the match Heaslip insisted they must improve if they are to make it back-to-back victories in Europe's premier club competition.
"Clermont came out all with guns blazing and we wanted to front up and weather the storm, taking our chances when they came," said the Ireland international. "We nearly got a try midway through the second half but it was knocked back by the TMO and that would certainly have made it easier for us.
"We're happy with the win but we still have a lot of work left to do in this tournament. Clermont worked themselves into the right areas to drop goals and we knew they were going to do that so we had to put pressure on them.
"There was a bit of luck because that last one didn't miss by much but you need that luck in the tournament sometimes. Both sides went hammer and tongs at each other. They went 10-0 up, we scored 20 points and then they came back at us again and retook the lead.
"It must have been a great match to watch - it was a real war of attrition and that experience will stand us in good stead. But I can't stress enough that we have a lot of work left to do."
Heaslip's back-row colleague Kevin McLaughlin, who started at blindside flanker after recovering from a shoulder problem, was also quick to acknowledge that Leinster will need to improve dramatically if they are to reach the final.
"There's no doubt we'll have to up our game if we are going to pick up a win in France," he said. "We showed good character but it won't be so easy to do that in France. All we think about is winning this competition again.
"Winning last year was great but we want to do it again and there's no doubt we'll have to improve if we want to go any further. Clermont are a very physical side, they went against the French stereotype in the way they played and they showed that in the first 10 minutes.
"We were really on the back foot but we're happy with the way we played our way back into the game and showed our character. We're in the habit of winning and coming out on top in these tight games. That's what you want to do when approaching finals time."
Indeed, Leinster coach Michael Cheika took great encouragement out of the way in which Leinster managed to win a game that they arguably should have lost.
"The experiences that we have drawn on from previous seasons means that when we go behind, we don't fall away," the Australian said. "These days we come back and stay in the match. That's key because at this level, with the teams we are playing, you are guaranteed to have times when they are in charge.
"It literally went down to the last kick of the game against Clermont. Our will to stay in the game and win made the difference. On any other day Brock James would have kicked that drop goal at the end. But we got enough players in his face. Maybe that's where our experience is helping us - we are now able to get those wins when in the past we probably thought we couldn't get back into it."
However, while Cheika was full of praise for his players' resilience, he was less impressed by the penalty count against them.
"Our discipline was absolutely abominable, really poor. That type of discipline is not good enough to win a European Cup," he said. "When the players came into the dressing room they weren't in a celebratory mood because they realised their discipline could have cost us the semi-final of Europe and you don't get those chances that often.
"We're happy but we certainly have a lot to work on. We got away with it against Clermont and while I'd prepared myself for a close match that would go to the end, I didn't realise it would be that close."
Sexton was in near-immaculate form with the boot on the night for Leinster, kicking seven from eight to finish with a 19-point haul that kept the scoreboard ticking over. In contrast, his opposite number James endured a dismal night, missing five out of nine kicks and three drop goal attempts as Clermont blew a glorious chance to reach the semi-finals for the first time.
"I was rubbish tonight. It was just one of those things because I don't know what got into me," said James. "I just wasn't good enough and it's so disappointing because we had the opportunity to win the game but there must be something mental about this team.
"Leinster capitalised on our mistakes. We really wanted to reach the next stage of the Heineken Cup but now we'll have to concentrate on the Top 14."
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