Leinster prepares for Final push
Shane Jennings doesn't believe Leinster's Ireland internationals will have any hang-ups about returning to the Aviva Stadium as they start their Final push.
Shane Jennings doesn't believe Leinster's Ireland internationals will have any hang-ups about returning to the Aviva Stadium for the second leg of their back-to-back European Cup clashes with Northampton Saints.
The balance of power in Pool One is set to swing one way or the other when the two clubs meet in a repeat of the memorable 2011 European Cup Final on Saturday and next weekend.
Franklin's Gardens will host the first game in Round Three on Saturday with the return match a week later at the same Aviva Stadium where Ireland agonisingly lost out on a moment of rugby history with their last-play defeat to New Zealand.
But despite the bitter disappointment of that 24-22 result, Jennings believes the pain of defeat will be a motivating factor rather than anything else for not only his teammates who played in the game - Rob and Dave Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Cian Healy, Mike Ross, Jack McGrath, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Kevin McLaughlin - but also every Irish fan who watched the game.
"There is no doubt that everyone feels it was an opportunity missed against the All Blacks, but that will just keep the players hungry for success. There was a lot of pride restored into the Aviva Stadium and the Irish jersey in that game," said Jennings.
"We want to continue in that same vein when we get to play there against Northampton Saints in Round Four of the European Cup and there won't be any mental scars on display when the Leinster internationals return.
"These back-to-back fixtures will tell us a lot about our strength in depth and will, once again, define our season. There is definitely another European Cup Final in this Leinster side.
"Qualifying from our pool is the first stage of the process and we are all aware of just how tough the two games with Northampton are going to be. But if you can reach the quarterfinals, then you are just two wins away from the Final - anything can happen.
"We know we face a massive task this month. We aren't the best team in the tournament, but we are there or thereabout."
Leinster currently sit on top of Pool One with a three-point cushion over the Saints following successive victories against the Ospreys and French champions, Castre. But Jennings and his colleagues know only too well how quickly things can change in December.
Last season, Clermont did the double over the then reigning champions and brought to an end their remarkable run of 17 European Cup games without defeat.
Clermont's two successes set them on their way to a first European Cup Final while Leinster had to be content with qualification for the European Challenge Cup for the first time.
It may have ended sweetly enough with victory over Stade Francais Paris at the RDS to bag a fourth European title, but Jennings and his teammates only have eyes for the main prize at this time of year.
"We are going to learn a lot about ourselves over the next few weeks. If we lose to Northampton then we know we are likely to be out of the European Cup," he admitted.
"They are a good side who always maintain high standards up front, but they also have some brilliant counter-attacking skills as well. You have to respect any back division that boasts the likes of Ben Foden and George North.
"They are also very strong defensively and challenge hard at the breakdown. Our new coach Matt O'Connor knows a fair bit about them from his days at Leicester and we certainly won't be taking anything for granted.
"When we met them in the European Cup Final at the Millennium two years ago, we found ourselves trailing by 16 points at half-time. We knew it was going to be hard for them to maintain the way they were playing for the full 80 minutes because they had been so good.
"They were causing us huge problems at the scrum and we needed to refocus on playing our patterns. We had a lot of confidence and belief in our ranks having won the title in 2009 and that came through in the second half as we went on to score 27 points. We knew that victory wasn't out of our reach despite being 22-6 down."
That was second time lucky for Jennings, a key replacement at the start of the second half, in his third European Cup Final. Since then he has gone on to add a third title against Ulster at Twickenham in 2012, and a European Challenge Cup winner's medal last season.
A fourth European Cup winner's medal would take him, and a number of his Leinster teammates, level with Cedric Heymans, who holds the record with four titles.
"It's simple. Once you've got one European Cup medal you want more. I've been to four finals and won three, but the pain of the defeat with Leicester Tigers against London Wasps in 2007 is still there," he added.
Leinster’s back-to-back record in the European Cup:
Overall: P 28 W 20 D 0 L 8 Pts: F 93 Ag 140
Home: P 14 W 12 D 0 L 2 Pts: F 56 Ag 70
Away: P 14 W 8 D 0 L 6 Pts: F 37 Ag 70
Clermont Auvergne 15-12 Leinster - 1pt
Leinster 21-28 Clermont Auvergne - 1pt (Aviva Stadium)
Bath 13-18 Leinster 18 - 4pts
Leinster 52-27 Bath - 5pts (Aviva Stadium)
Clermont 20-13 Leinster - 1pt
Leinster 24-8 Clermont - 4pts (Aviva Stadium)
Scarlets 7-32 Leinster - 5pts
Leinster 39-7 Scarlets - 5pts
Leinster 33-3 Castres - 4pts
Castres 18-15 Leinster 1 - 1pt
Leinster 28-14 Edinburgh - 4pts
Edinburgh 29-10 Leinster - 0pts
Leinster 26-10 Agen - 5pts (Lansdowne Road)
Agen 13-25 Leinster - 4pts
Leinster 53-7 Bourgoin - 5pts
Bourgoin 30-28 Leinster - 1pt
Leinster 92-17 Bourgoin - 5pts (Lansdowne Road)
Bourgoin 23-26 Leinster - 4pts
Leinster 22-23 Sale Sharks - 1pt (Lansdowne Road)
Sale Sharks 16-23 Leinster - 4pts
Clermont 20-23 Leinster 2- 4pts
Leinster 12-9 Clermont - 4pts
Leinster 21- Newport - 4pts
Newport 21-26 Leinster - 4pts
Northampton Saints 8-14 Leinster - 4pts
Leinster 40-31 Northampton Saints - 5pts
Stade Francais 39-6 Leinster - 0pts
Leinster 24-23 Stade Francais - 4pts