Lawrence Dallaglio says the Heineken Cup is as big as it gets
He has faced plenty of major challenges in his distinguished career, but playing Leinster for the first time in Europe’s top club competition is a new one even for him as he hopes to add a second Heineken Cup to his lengthy trophy list.
“The latter stages of the Heineken Cup – and I do not say this lightly – are as big as any game of rugby you will ever play in terms of the atmosphere, the passion and the intensity,” said the former England captain.
“When we won in 2004 we had a sell-out quarter-final at Adams Park against Gloucester, then the semi-final against Munster was in front of a full house at Lansdowne Road and the game had everything – we just happened to be ahead when the final whistle went.
“One thought it could not be bettered, but then a month later it was Toulouse in the final in front of 75,000 at Twickenham.
“That gives you an idea of what the latter stages of this tournament generate, the demand and the enthusiasm for the game.
“Getting to the final would be the icing on the cake for any player but there is no sentiment in sport, it does not owe me anything, and it is not something which is just going to happen.
“I look at Martin Johnson – his last game was a Premiership final against Wasps and he would not have wanted to go out that way by losing in the way that they did. You cannot write your own scripts.”
Wasps and Leinster have never met in the competition, despite their considerable Heineken Cup pedigrees. Now both clubs have to regroup following the Six Nations to face this new challenge.
“The way the Heineken Cup is spread out because the type of rugby and the shape you are in during the early stages is different to the latter stages,” said Dallaglio.
“Like a lot of clubs we sacrifice a lot of players to the Six Nations and they come back in different physical and mental states depending on how their countries have done and how much rugby they have played.
“It is up to the club to get everyone back together and looking forward to playing a quality side like Leinster.
“They have obviously got aspirations of going all the way having been a bit unlucky on occasions in the past, while we want to repeat our success of 2004.
“They are superstars, but also bang in form, so it will be a very exciting game at a packed house and our home record is the best in the league so we look forward to hosting Leinster.”
The England back rower is also perfectly placed to run his eye over the other quarter-finals, knowing that either Wasps or Leinster will have to travel to face either Biarritz or Northampton in the semi-finals.
“Having been to Biarritz and lost narrowly there in the group stages, Northampton’s league form would suggest they will no get through and they could have other priorities in terms of survival in the Premiership,” said Dallaglio.
“Your head would say it would be hard to bet against Biarritz going through but who knows, Northampton could go out there and really go for it and cause an upset.
“All we can say about ourselves is that we gave ourselves an advantage by earning a home draw and I would say the same about Leicester.
“They are up against Stade Francais and a few years ago that was a final in its own right, but I am sure Leicester will feel confident of playing at Welford Road.
“Llanelli against Munster is going to be interesting, Llanelli have been superb through the group stages and Munster are the champions so there are some very interesting games across the board.”