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'If we don't win in Europe it's not been a great season' - Johnny Sexton

By Paul Smith
(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Johnny Sexton has upped the stakes for Leinster ahead of next weekend’s opening round of Heineken Champions Cup action.

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Speaking to the Irish Examiner, the former British & Irish Lions no.10 and Leinster club captain said that a fifth success in Europe’s most prestigious competition is now the benchmark by which a club which last lifted the trophy in 2018 will measure themselves.

“We have put ourselves in a position that if we don’t win in Europe it’s not been a great season,” he said.

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Munster CEO Ian Flanagan
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Munster CEO Ian Flanagan

“Sometimes you can win the league and it’s a good season – obviously, any time you win a trophy it’s a good season – but we want to be a great Leinster team and to do that you have to win the European Cup based on what teams have done before us.

“It took a lot of hard work to get us into a club or a culture, whatever you want to call it, where that is the case and it was a slog for a good few years.”

Leinster last lifted the title in 2018 with a hard-fought final victory over Racing 92 in Bilbao.

The Dublin-based province then lost to Saracens in Newcastle 12 months later and again at the quarter-final stage in 2020 when 19 points from Alex Goode saw Mark McCall’s team to a memorable 25-19 Aviva Stadium success.

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Leo Cullen’s team again went close last season before falling to a 32-23 defeat at the hands of La Rochelle in France in the semi-final.

After injuring his knee and ankle during Ireland’s victory over New Zealand last month, Sexton will watch this Saturday’s home pool opener against struggling Bath from the Aviva Stadium sidelines.

However, he hopes to be fit for the following week’s trip to Montpellier – a tie which could prove pivotal in determining Leinster’s route through the latter stages of a competition which sees 24 clubs reduced to 16 ahead of the knock-out stage.

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Head coach Leo Cullen is wary of making every opportunity count in the Heineken Champions Cup’s new format.

“Bath are a team we need to make sure we prepare well for to give ourselves the best chance, because it’s such a tricky format with just four pool games,” he told the 42.

“With all the various challenges with Covid, disruptions etc that are potentially there – it’s important we mind ourselves during the week and that it comes to it we’re battling for every single point available.

“We were poor last week (against Ulster) and a bit better against Connacht. So, for us it’s focusing on getting better, improving our performance.

“We need a bit of cohesion as a group to give ourselves the best chance in Europe in the first two weeks.”

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