IT IS GOOD to know that at least one Leinster supporter at the Aviva Stadium today will not be chewing their nails to shreds.
While Malcolm O’Kelly veered between four-try predictions and warnings of doom, and Girvan Dempsey admitted any win would do, Shane Byrne is thinking of a Clermont victory and many more in this year’s Heineken Cup.
He told TheScore.ie, “I said a long time ago that whoever came out of these two games on top would challenge for the silverware.
“Leinster, for Clermont, at this stage are a hoodoo side.
“They are absolutely superb, the European Cup is one of the things they really want but Leinster have scuppered them a couple of times.
“Personally, I don’t see that changing.”
Games between the two sides have always been tight and Clermont Auvergne would have won on their most recent trip to Dublin if Brock James had not been possessed by the kicking yips.
Morgan Parra has taken the kicking responsibilities and, as Leinster coach Joe Schmidt said, Clermont’s route to cup glory would be a whole lot easier if the champions were out of sight.
Enough to make even the unflappable Byrne quake?
“No, to tell you the truth, I’m not,” he assured us. “I would have been nervous last week, coming into the Clermont game.
Leinster are traditionally slow starters but they were particularly slow this year and they have been majorly hampered with injuries. I think they’ve slowly but surely started to find form.”
He added, “To come out of Clermont with a point, which did us in ’09 – that was all we needed to do, and to leave there feeling we had at least an opportunity to get a draw. So few sides can do that and, when they had the ball, they controlled the game.
“Their defence was very, very good. I am feeling good – I feel we’re hitting form.”
Big Aviva occasion
When talk turns to bonus points, Byrne, a wily Leinster, Ireland and Lions hooker, smiles.
“We love playing at the Aviva and I think we need one of those big, classic occasions,” he said.
They have that extra bonus point ahead of us and it would be great to get it away but you know Joe Schmidt, he’s a wily old customer. He’ll just be looking to win at all costs.”
As Byrne elaborates on the bonus point permutations, it becomes apparent that he has a back-up plan.
“Winning the group and qualification are two different matters,” he said.
“With Connacht beating Biarritz last week, and taking points away from them, that could open the door a little bit to a second place in the group.”
Shane Byrne – not just a pretty hairstyle.