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Clermont are 'undoubtedly' the favourites says Leinster coach Schmidt

The Kiwi is daunted by his former side’s blistering start to their Heineken Cup pool.

Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton celebrate beating Clermont in April.
Joe Schmidt and Jonathan Sexton celebrate beating Clermont in April.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

CLERMONT LOCK JAMIE CUDMORE has expressed his belief that Clermont Auvergne’s home form makes them the favourites for this weekend’s clash with Leinster.

Leinster’s Joe Schmidt, who coached the Winnipeg native at Clermont for three seasons, remarked that he would not be chasing down Cudmore to start a quarrel.

He said, “I wouldn’t argue a lot with Jamie. I know him pretty well. He’s 120-odd kilos of muscle so he’s not the sort of guy you would make too many arguments with. I’ll leave that Kev [McLaughlin] and the boys.

“Undoubtedly [they are favourites]. They’ve got a fully international squad with a lot more maturity as far as time together is concerned.

“It’s been pretty well written this week that there will be a number of key leaders for us this week that are not going to be on the field. [Missing] that leadership and experience is going to make things difficult.”

Better than last year

Flanker Kevin McLaughlin admitted, at Leinster’s press briefing today, that the European champions are under pressure to come away from the double-header in better shape than their French rivals.

Schmidt was then asked if Clermont, who are 50 games unbeaten at their Stade Marcel Michelin home ground, were a better team than the one Leinster defeated 19-15 in the Bordeaux semi-final last season.

“I think they are,” he told TheScore.ie. “They lost Lee Byrne and Julien Malzieu early in that game [last season]. They have added in Damien Chouly, who is a pretty strong addition for them.” Schmidt added:

They’re in a fine vein of form. Kev mentioned the five points they got in each of their first two fixtures. It’s not the points they got that’s the concern. It’s the manner in which they got them against two teams that we really struggled with.

“With Scarlets, you might say the red card [Morgan Stoddart] got but we struggled against Exeter at home and Clermont went there and eclipsed them really.”

Tullow Tank

Schmidt believes Sean O’Brien, two games back in blue after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a hip injury, can last 80 minutes in France if called upon to do so.

He said, “Sean got 80 minutes against Glasgow. The conditions weren’t great, there were errors so it was a stop-start game but that helped him. He added another 40 minutes against Zebre, which was a more open game.

You’re never quite confident because you don’t know how things are going to unfold but we feel we’ve got good cover with Shane Jennings on the bench.

“Either way, we feel we can make the change if Sean does run out of gas a bit.”

Schmidt harked back to the players that will be missing from Sunday afternoon’s clash.

He mentioned Rob Kearney’s all-round performance in Bordeaux, which included an audacious drop goal, and contributions of Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald.

Add to that, the loss through shoulder injury of Heinke van der Merwe and the summer exit of Brad Thorn and Cudmore’s point seems more than valid.

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Patrick McCarry

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