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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 11°C
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# eye on the prize
Opinion: Leinster's European final takes secondary importance to Pro12
Last year’s Pro12 final defeat still casts a shadow over Joe Schmidt’s side.

THROUGHOUT LEINSTER’S SEASON, long before they fell to Clermont, and even before they were steam-rolled by Connacht, there has been a sense of dissatisfaction looming over the camp.

Never mind that they had moved a step closer to becoming a ‘dynasty’ by sealing a third Heineken Cup in four seasons, the game that followed left a sour taste that has lingered ever since.

It was supposed to be an afternoon of crowning glory bathed in silverware and hot sunshine. Instead, they lost a third consecutive league final in dramatic circumstances.

For Joe Schmidt, it has proved a tough one to take. That much was still evident in his team selection for tonight’s Amlin Challenge Cup final.

“Sortir complètement usé.” The Kiwi said yesterday to send us scrambling for Google Translate. He was referring to an interview with Stade Francais winger Jeremy Sinzelle  on the Top 14 club’s website. Sinzelle was vowing to wear himself out in pursuit of an unlikely victory.

“That sort of thing has been a continual thing. They’re going to come out and empty the tank, they’ve got nothing else to play for. Effectively they’ve had a three-week preparation, they put out a B team against Biarritz. So they have really had an opportunity to really line us up and that’s always a risk for us.”

Schmidt may well be expecting Stade to ramp up their game 100%, but his team selection shows he is either not that worried or his true intention is finishing on a high at Leinster. Maybe both.

The presence of four international forwards on the bench is the insurance policy tonight. Leinster can win the Challenge Cup in third or fourth gear before throwing everything at Ulster to fill in the one vacancy from the trophy cabinet in Clonskeagh.

“It isn’t a major influence at all.” Schmidt contends. “You always try to match things up week to week.The key thing for me is that the players that have contributed, continue to contribute.”

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Decision, decisions

However, unearthing the pain of defeat requires a mere scratch of the surface as he continued:

“Last year, we felt that we managed the play-off area really well. It wasn’t for us to make the decisions on the field at the time. We’re still disappointed with some of the decisions that were made and the fact that 20 points were scored at a time when we were without two players.”

Stade may be  be emptying the tank tonight, but Leinster will be holding plenty in reserve to finally capture that league crown and prevent Ulster claiming consecutive wins at the RDS.

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