Ben Brady/INPHO Leinster's Caelan Doris.

'The image of having my family and friends there at a final is definitely a motivating factor'

Caelan Doris on why Leinster are determined to add a fifth European star when the Champions Cup final comes to Dublin this year.

ON MONDAY MORNING, fresh from a hard-fought URC win at Ospreys, the Leinster squad went through the usual early-week routine.

The 24-19 victory in Wales was briefly touched on, of course, before matters swiftly moved to this weekend’s return to European action.

The Champions Cup is the competition by which Leinster’s season is measured. How last year’s campaign ended in Marseille still stings, and as Caelan Doris reveals, it continues to be referenced regularly in squad meetings.

This weekend sees Leinster travel to play Gloucester, and they’ll make the journey with visions of that narrow, last-ditch defeat to La Rochelle fresh in the memory.

“This morning we watched some clips from the final,” says Doris. “Every now and then they come up. It still hurts seeing them.

There is quite a vivid memory of the dressing room after and how bleak and silent it was, and not wanting to experience that again.

“(It was) Mainly set-piece we saw this morning. But there’s been different ones (clips) in the past.”

It’s not unusual for Leinster to spend time looking back over moments from key defeats, and the La Rochelle game has provided plenty of material worth poring over again and again – the province staying ahead for most of the game before the French side’s power, patience and execution eventually told. 

“Usually it would be a certain clip, if there’s a valid point in the clip that keeps coming up rather than just the game as a whole. This game (v La Rochelle) has come up a few times.”

Gloucester are not quite at the same level of Ronan O’Gara’s high-flying La Rochelle, but they should offer more than they did in December – the English side shipping nine tries after sending over a shadow selection to the RDS.  

Naturally, Leinster have been focusing more on the bigger picture rather than dedicating too much time to reviewing that 57-0 win over George Skivington’s men in round two.

“Our north star is getting a trophy, which we didn’t do last year in either competition, so there is still quite a bit of hurt from that and that’s a big driver for us.

But also, it’s going to be a different (Gloucester) team, it’s away from home, it’s a completely different challenge. It’s a blank slate in a way, so we probably haven’t even reviewed the last game too much because it’s going to be very different.

“Obviously we got a pretty good result against them the last time but we are expecting a much tougher challenge, probably both in terms of the team we expect them to field and then being away from home, early kick-off.

“All those factors come into it, so I think it’s going to be a much tougher challenge. Looking at their back-row in particular, they have got so much depth and quality there. (Ruan) Ackermann, Ben Morgan, (Albert) Tuisue, Jordy Reid – there is a lot of quality there. It’s an exciting one for us as a back-row.”

Perhaps the added carrot of this year’s Champions Cup final being held in Dublin is the biggest driving factor of all.

That’s definitely another motivator. One for me in particular, in that the trophies I’ve experienced and the Pro14 wins were during Covid, so the image of having my family and friends there at a final is definitely a motivating factor. Sharing that with them, but a lot of work to be done before then.”

With the Six Nations on the horizon (Ireland kick-off their campaign against Wales on 4 February) it’s also an important time for any player hoping to be involved in Andy Farrell’s squad.

Doris made his Ireland debut during Farrell’s first Six Nations in charge (2020), and is now a crucial part of the side, making the number eight shirt his own despite the backrow being one of the most competitive areas of the squad.

“Obviously there is always so much room for improvement. I’m enjoying improving and having a plan each week to go after different things pre and post-training, in training. I’m enjoying that and looking forward to seeing where I can go with it.

“I think there’s plenty more room for improvement in my tackle, carry, all the basics even. There’s so much more growth there still. I’m enjoying it.”

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