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Schmidt seeks repeat success

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Sportal.co.nz     08 May 2012     Getty Images

The Leinster coach, who saw his side claim Europe's top prize, the Heineken Cup, will defend the title on May 19 against Irish rival Ulster.

Schmidt whose first steps on the coaching road were taken with New Zealand Secondary Schools was assistant coach to Vern Cotter at Bay of Plenty when they claimed the Ranfurly Shield from Auckland in 2004. He was assistant coach with the Blues from 2004-07 before heading to Europe where he was Cotter's understudy at Clermont Auvergne.

The side finished runners-up in the French Top 14 competition in 2008 and 2009 before Schmidt headed to Ireland to take on his role at Leinster in the 2010-11 season.

Schmidt told the IRB's Total Rugby podcast that it had been difficult at Clermont Auvergne, especially coping with the language difference and he had been much more comfortable in Ireland.

"The Irish people are more easy-going and it was nice to be back in an English-speaking environment," he said.

Schmidt said his background in coaching developed from a back's perspective.

"The backs are always a part of what I have enjoyed doing coaching wise," he said.

And of the Leinster combination headed by Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll he said it was nice to be able to work with a quality group of backs.

"If there was a philosophy it would be about using the ball as best we can. They've got to have a little bit of excitement about what they are going to be doing," he said.

"When you're a kid and you start playing rugby that's the reason you play – you want to be able to get a run with the ball and get excited about playing."

Free-flowing rugby was great from the spectators' viewpoint and in Leinster's case playing that way was an expression of gratitude from the players to their fans for their support.

"They've been incredibly supportive of us and hopefully by way of repayment to them we do open the game up a little bit and they get to enjoy, sometimes, the benefits of that if we can get it right," he said.

His exposure to the Cup final intensity against Northamptonshire last year had been thrilling.

"There was so much excitement around last year's final. It was probably the most memorable day of my coaching career," he said.

From the outset of the 2011-12 season he had told the players they were not going to defend the title, they were going out to win it again. They knew they would be seen as the top dog and everyone would be gunning for them.

To beat his old club Clermont in the semi-final had been special, especially when coming back from a half-time deficit to claim the game 19-15.

Ulster won their right to play in the final with a 22-19 win over Edinburgh.

Now all roads lead to Twickenham on May 19.