GORDON D’ARCY BELIEVES that anyone operating at less than full-tilt against Ulster tomorrow night will not be picked for the Heineken Cup semi-final.
All season long, Leinster have demonstrated an intense competition for places within the squad which Joe Schmidt says, leave him “reaching for the Panadol.”
That is borne out by the results, and few have better illustrated their strength in depth than last week; when Schmidt made 12 changes to the side which swept aside Cardiff in the Heineken Cup quarter-final, but looked little weaker in dismantling fellow semi-finalists, Edinburgh.
The writing is on the wall at Riverview.
Tomorrow’s trip to Belfast will have no more than bragging rights and momentum at stake. Valuable currency, but nothing Leinster cannot afford to lose.
However, D’Arcy says that the culture within the province at the minute will dictate that anything less than 100% will not be good enough.
“I’m probably giving you exactly what Joe would say if you asked him the same question: if it comes across that somebody is not giving full whack, then there is very little chance of them getting picked for a semi-final. And that’s the way we work here.”
D’Arcy was one of the three players who played against both the Blues and Edinburgh and so is unlikely to feature from the start in Belfast. He expects whoever is given the nod to experience a severe test of character:
“Going to Ulster is one of the harder places to go and play rugby in Europe. They’re such passionate supporters up there. Having played with a lot of the lads in the Irish team – as we do with the RDS – they try and get their crowd (going) give them something to get behind and it suddenly becomes that cauldron of a place to play.
“If you win there, it’s a huge sense of achievement. The squad grows and the team then grows as a result of it. It’s going to be very very tough no matter which way you slice it; we’re playing an inter-pro, all the big guns are back.”
After yesterday’s confirmation of the kick-off time for the Pro12 semi-finals, it is striking that Leinster are the only club to have the comfort of knowing exactly where they will be that weekend.
They’ve worked hard for that right. No matter what XV Schmidt has presented for duty in the Pro12 they have delivered. There were disappointing performances along the way, but nothing goes unnoticed, not even after a 54-13 win.
When we met D’Arcy, he was fresh from a video session where holes were mercilessly picked holes in their 41 point rout.
“You take it (the result) with a pinch of salt.” Said D’Arcy, adding, ”The video session this morning was equally cringe-worthy as the games where we don’t play so well.
“When you take everything like that – we’re happy with bits of it, but – huge scope for improvement right across the board.”
It’s that attitude of continuous improvement which now drives Leinster. Under Schmidt, they will never settle for good enough, never be allowed to let that foot off the pedal.
Leinster, having secured top spot in the league, will be at the RDS on Saturday May 12. Their opposition will be the team who finishes in fourth place.
The other Pro12 semi-final will be between the second and third place finishers on Friday May 11. Both fixtures will kick off at 7.35.