‘You judge yourself on silverware – no one cares about making finals’ – Brian O’Driscoll says Leinster know they need win
The winning smile breaks across Brian O'Driscoll's face, masking the ferocious warrior spirit that defined him as one of the world's greatest centres.
O'Driscoll won three Heineken Cup titles during a 15-year career with Leinster and is in no doubt about the bottom line facing his former province ahead of the Champions' Cup final against their recent nemesis La Rochelle.
"They need to win this one," says the former Ireland captain. "They do. I don't want to heap more pressure on them, but they know it themselves. They know they got to win this one."
Leinster do know it themselves. It is five years since Leo Cullen's side won the last of their four titles, and despite being rightly hailed season after season as one of the star sides in Europe, there has been a mounting sense that they are guilty of stumbling too often at the final hurdle.
Leinster may have provided the lion's share of Ireland's Grand Slam winning side, but when it comes to the holy grail of the Champions Cup, have been found wanting in the white heat moments of the big occasions, in particular against heavyweight sides.
Aided by what is effectively home advantage of an Aviva Stadium final, there is the added emotional attachment of the final game of Stuart Lancaster's seven-year tenure as senior coach. The former England head coach has made a defining impact on Leinster's evolution into arguably the most cohesive side in the world game.
"You judge yourself as a team on silverware not on people marvelling at you and talking about your semi-finals and finals," added O'Driscoll.
"People only talk about winning teams. I don't know who the Chicago Bulls beat in the NBA Finals back in the 1990s when they won three NBA titles on the bounce. Nobody cares. They only care about the standard and the quality of the winning team.
"Ultimately it will be a disappointing outcome of the last match of the Stuart Lancaster era, along with Leo if they don't win this one because they've been in two other finals and they've been in other semi-finals.
"They've been the best team in Europe, more often than not, up to the semi-finals and final stage but you've got to deliver it in the big one and I think they will this time around."
Leinster's 16-15 defeat in the URC semi-finals by Munster last weekend, when Cullen fielded a second-string side – in part to reward those who had featured many times in the regular season when the internationals were unavailable but also to wrap up his star names in cotton wool ahead of Saturday's final – has only added to the pressure on the Irish province. Cullen's selection has been a talking point in Dublin all week.
"I was lauding Leo the way he rotated his squad against the Sharks [in the URC quarter-final following the Champions Cup semi-final win over Toulouse], saying it was brilliant the way he was keeping the squad happy and they delivered a performance," added O'Driscoll.
"But the reality is the closer you get to a final, the better the opposition gets and maybe, retrospectively they got what they deserved against a Munster team that was going to win one soon. So I think it is a deflator in their squad, no doubt. I am not going to say it will have a negative impact but certainly the video session on Monday off the back of a semi-final defeat when you have run away with the regular season is something that can take the wind out of your sails and it something that you don't need in the week of a Champions' Cup final.
"The one fortunate aspect is that there won't be many starters from that XV, probably only two or three. So the side that are going to come in can park it quickly and say ultimately, as much as we are one squad, we weren't part of that game so full steam ahead.
"In some respects, it is good to feel that pain again, as Leinster fans, it keeps you alive and gets rid of any complacency, and maybe people will say there was a complacency to that selection. But I think the eyes are on the prize for Saturday. They didn't win it last year but they won four URC titles in a row before that. This is the one that has been elusive. Two finals since 2018 and under delivered in semi-finals and finals in Europe in the last five years, that is the reality of it.
"Their season wasn't going to be a success if they won the URC, their season was going to be a success if they won the Champions Cup. And that's still there for the taking."
BT Sport is home of the Heineken Champions Cup. Watch this year's final between Leinster and La Rochelle from 4pm, Saturday 20th May live and exclusive on BT Sport 2. Visit btsport.com/rugby