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New Leinster coach to face old friends

Guinness PRO12 Editor

8 Jun 2010

It was the draw that new Leinster coach Joe Schmidt feared more than anything – his new team being paired with his old in the Heineken Cup next season.

And while the 44-year-old was preparing for a sleepless night in his home town in New Zealand shortly after hearing the Heineken Cup Pool draw for 2010/11, he was contenting himself with the fact he won’t have to do much homework on at least one of his three European rivals next season.

Schmidt takes over from Michael Cheika at the Magners League beaten Grand Finalists this summer, with Cheika heading for pastures new at Stade Francais having led Leinster to European success in 2009 and Magners League glory a year earlier.

Former Auckland Blues assistant coach Schmidt has spent the past four seasons as backs coach at newly-crowned French champions ASM Clermont Auvergne, finally delivering the Bouclier de Brennus after three agonising seasons as the Top 14 bridesmaids.

There was success in Europe in the Challenge Cup in 2007 and a quarter-final berth in the Heineken Cup last season – against Leinster in Dublin. That ended with a 29-28 defeat at his new home, the RDS, and more than a few thoughts about what might have been as Clermont left 26 potential points in kicks on the field.

“What a Pool to be in – Leinster reached the Magners League Grand Final, Clermont are the French champions, Saracens all but won the Guinness Premiership final and Racing-Metro, who Clermont only just beat 21-17 in the Top 14 play-offs,” said Schmidt, who will hope to take Leinster a step further than they achieved by making the Heineken Cup semi-finals and the Magners League Grand Final last month.

“I’m not sure how these draws are made, but I just seem to get the hard ones. In my first season in the Heineken Cup Clermont were drawn with Munster, London Wasps and a Scarlets side that had gone unbeaten through to the semi-finals the previous season.

“Then last season we had the Ospreys and Leicester Tigers to contend with. Now I find myself back in one of those ‘Pools of Death’ again.

“Leinster had London Irish (3rd in England), Brive (6th in France) and the Scarlets (5th in Celtic League). Now look at what we’ve got.

“I would certainly have preferred to have missed the French champions, who left 26 points behind them on their last trip to Dublin and outscored Leinster by three tries to two.

“It is going to be a great Pool for the spectators and the tournament as a whole, but for the coaches it isn’t a friendly draw and it is going to be pretty tough. I obviously know the Clermont team very well and it will be nice to link up with them again – I just wish it hadn’t have been quite so quickly.”