Leinster coach Joe Schmidt admits his side are already playing catch-up in the RaboDirect PRO12 table despite seeing his side record their second victory of the season against the Scarlets on Saturday.
With his squad decimated by injuries and World Cup call-ups, Schimdt has seen his side lose twice already this season, including their first regular season match at the RDS in 29 matches.
Their 15-10 victory in Llanelli took Leinster’s points tally to nine but already defending champions Munster have raced ahead to 17 while Connacht and Ulster have 13 and 12 respectively.
This season all four provinces will compete in the Heineken Cup, courtesy of Leinster’s victory last year, but unless an Irish side follows suit this year, there will be just three for next campaign.
And Schmidt admits missing out on qualification for Europe’s premier event is unthinkable for the defending champions.
"This is massively important. Munster are already runaway leaders on 17 [points]," said Schmidt.
"You've got Ulster on 12 and Connacht are on 13. We have to qualify for the Heineken Cup. It is as simple as that.
"While there is an opportunity for young guys, there is also a massive responsibility to front up.
"Against Scarlets that was one of those things we grabbed with both hands and we must continue to do that."