Casey relishing Leinster showdown
October 6, 2009
London Irish skipper Bob Casey can't wait for his side's Heineken Cup opener © Getty Images
London Irish skipper Bob Casey is relishing the build-up to their Heineken Cup opener against reigning champions Leinster in Dublin on Friday.
The Irish lock, capped seven times by his country, left Dublin for the Exiles in 2002 and has built a reputation as one of the best second-rows in the Premiership.
"It's great for me to go back and play against my old club in my home town," said Casey. "But it's also brilliant for the club to get an Irish province. It'll increase the profile of the club, the fans will love it and we will get a good gate so it is great for the club that we not only drew a top Irish province but also the Heineken Cup champions.
"Naturally there has been plenty of banter already and I'm sure there will be a lot more in the lead up to the game in Dublin."
Casey will be up against an old friend in Leinster skipper Leo Cullen and is full of admiration for the way the Dubliners took on all comers in their march to the title last season. They are in ominous form again after thrashing Munster last weekend, but the Exiles have also hit the ground running this season.
"I know Leo really well - we roomed together in school so we're good mates - and he has been fantastic for Leinster," said Casey. "I think there has been a big difference with him and Shane Jennings going back there and I think they have really improved the Leinster set-up. They certainly deserved to win the Heineken Cup - and they did it the hard way.
"They had to go away in the quarter-final, they had to play the Heineken Cup holders in the semi-final at Croke Park and then they were away in Scotland against the English champions. They thoroughly deserved it and they'll be a big challenge for us.
"And it is great to know that you can win big things playing that way, an entertaining, running style of rugby. But you've got to remember that Leinster's defence is probably what won them the Heineken Cup. They've got a phenomenal defence.
"They've got such a good work ethic and such a good team spirit - that's what won it for them and that's what we base our game around. "We had the best defence in the Premiership last year and, if we're going to win things, our defence is going to have to be the same, if not better than last season."
Casey's men reached the semi-final of the tournament in 2008, losing out to defeated finalists Toulouse in a thriller at Twickenham, but spent last season in the European Challenge Cup. Their quarter-final exit was a disappointment, as was their loss in the Premiership final to Leicester, but Casey is overjoyed to be back at the top table this season.
"Not being in the Heineken Cup last season was an absolute killer for us. It is the premier competition in European rugby and, put it this way, we most certainly did not like watching it so we are delighted to be back in and we feel we're in good shape to compete," he said. "Consistency is what we've been striving for, and we're getting there. I think last year our win ratio was pretty good and this year it is going to have to be better.
"We've had a lot of experiences of big games - and not all of them have been happy experiences - so at some stage you've got to put those experiences to use and start winning things and that semi-final defeat two years ago will stand us in good stead."