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Heineken Cup
Horgan primed for bruising battle
ESPNscrum Staff
November 4, 2011
Leinster's Isa Nacewa and Shane Horgan raise the Heineken Cup trophy, Leinster v Northampton Saints, Heineken Cup Final, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, May 21, 2011
Horgan celebrates his side's Heineken Cup triumph with team-mate Isa Nacewa © Getty Images
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Teams: Ireland | Leinster

Veteran Leinster winger Shane Horgan is wary of the task facing his side as they prepare to launch their defence of the Heineken Cup crown.

The Irish province claimed Europe's top prize for the second time with an epic 33-22 victory over Northampton in the tournament finale in May in arguably the greatest final in the competition's 16-year history. They enter the new campaign as favourites to make it back-to-back titles but only one side has achieved that feat with Leicester claiming the title in 2001 and 2002.

Horgan, currently battling back from a knee injury which ended his own World Cup hopes, believes there is enough quality in the Dublin-based squad to go all the way again but he knows there will be no room for complacency given the quality of the sides that join Leinster in Pool Three, namely Bath, Glasgow and Top 14 runners-up Montpellier.

"I'd like to think it's possible for Leinster to defend the Heineken Cup, but it's an extraordinarily difficult thing to do," he said. "Leicester are the only team to have done it but that was a number of years ago now and it proves the quality of the competition has been improving year on year. That makes it very difficult to win it two years on the trot.

"We had a very hard pool to qualify from last year and we thought we might get a few favours this time round but that wasn't the case. So it's foolhardy to look beyond the pool stages. If you do that, you end up watching the knockout stages on the TV. We're very focused on the pool stages. Once you progress from there you can reassess."

With the tournament commencing just a matter of weeks after the end of the World Cup in New Zealand, much attention will be focused on the performance levels of those who suffered disappointment in the game's global showpiece. The likes of Sean O'Brien, Jonathan Sexton, Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip all experienced the crushing blow of Ireland's quarter-final exit at the hands of Wales, but Horgan is confident there will be no World Cup hangover when the European campaign begins against Montpellier next weekend.

"The Ireland players coming back were very disappointed with the result against Wales," he said. "We felt they could go further. At 10-10 against Wales, if we'd got the next score my money would have been on Ireland.

"It wasn't to be but they have come back to Leinster with a very positive attitude. There's a desire to get back. They have been training for the last six months and just want to play - they're very well conditioned. They're hungry and there's a desire to perform. Hopefully Leinster can reap the benefits of that."

Flanker O'Brien, last season's European Player of the Year, will be a particularly important figure for coach Joe Schmidt after producing a string of outstanding displays over the last 12 months. His wrecking-ball qualities as a carrier won him plenty of plaudits from a Kiwi rugby public not exactly predisposed to heaping praise on the northern hemisphere game.

And Horgan acknowledges that the 24-year-old has already become a talismanic figure at club and international level. "Sean O'Brien has been exceptional for us and was exceptional at the World Cup," he said. "He was a deserving European Player of the Year last year. He's very dynamic and physical, he's a charismatic guy and always wants his hands on the ball.

"We try to get him the ball as often as possible and it generally pays dividends when that happens. He doesn't like to stop for anyone and is a player we rally around."

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