NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (3rd) v LEINSTER (1st), Franklin's Gardens, 6pm (live Sky Sports 2 HD/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster Leinster team to face Northampton Saints in Saturday evening's Heineken Cup round 3 clash at Franklin's Gardens has been named, and head coach Matt O'Connor has selected an all-Ireland side to start.
In an experienced line-up, Brian O'Driscoll, who has recovered from concussion, will resume his centre partnership for the province with Gordon D'Arcy.
Ian Madigan continues at out-half alongside Eoin Reddan who is in line to make his 89th Leinster appearance. Luke Fitzgerald joins brothers Dave and Rob Kearney in the back-three.
Jamie Heaslip leads the team and the Naas man is named in the back row alongside Sean O'Brien and Rhys Ruddock who will win his 69th Leinster cap in Northampton.
Devin Toner returns to the second row after his involvement with Ireland during the GUINNESS Series. He will partner Mike McCarthy, with Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross, who now lies six appearances shy of the century mark for Leinster, completing the pack.
Leo Cullen continues his recent return to action and is one of a further four Ireland internationals on the bench alongside Kiwi out-half Jimmy Gopperth and South African Zane Kirchner.
Speaking ahead of the game, O'Connor said: "We've had a good training week and the Test boys have come back well, so we're in a good place.
"Northampton have picked up a handful of world class players since (the 2011 Heineken Cup final) and they've tried to evolve their game.
"We've still got to deal with their strength which will be the drive and the scrum and the momentum that creates. They're scoring tries, winning games and playing good rugby at the moment.
"We've certainly got to limit the opportunities they get. Once they get momentum they're a very good side.
"But if we play anywhere near our potential, we're good enough to win the game. The challenge for us is making sure we're at our best."
Meanwhile, Franklin's Gardens has been sold out for weeks in anticipation of this repeat of the 2011 Heineken Cup final.
The Saints management - led by director of rugby Jim Mallinder - have made four changes to the team which beat Worcester Warriors 33-10 in the Aviva Premiership last time out.
James Wilson returns to the side at full-back, with George North coming onto the wing after the completion of his autumn commitments with Wales.
Up front Courtney Lawes partners Samu Manoa in the second row with Phil Dowson coming in on the openside flank.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: James Wilson; Ken Pisi, Dom Waldouck, Luther Burrell, George North; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley (capt), Salesi Ma'afu, Samu Manoa, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, Phil Dowson, Sam Dickinson.
Replacements: Mike Haywood, Ethan Waller, Tom Mercey, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Ryan Glynn, Glenn Dickson, Jamie Elliott.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Bricknell, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Northampton Saints to win: 8/11; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 6/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Rob Kearney (Leinster) - "Northampton are a champion side. They won some big competitions and they're a big team. But we've been eyeing up these back-to-back games for a while now.
"It's the one area where we suffered last year. It probably cost us progressing in the Heineken Cup. It's something we've spoken about - the back-to-back games before Christmas are crucial if you want to progress in the tournament.
"Of course, I wouldn't expect anything less from them (Saints). They've been eyeing up these two games as an important part of their season, but so have we.
"It (Ireland's defeat to New Zealand) is going to be one of the games that I'm sure will stick with some of the guys for a long time. There probably was an emotional high for a lot of guys.
"And I think that's why it was important for some guys to get that little break last weekend. That'll add a huge amount of value to those guys who are involved in the game. Certainly, what I've seen from everyone this week, everyone's fuelled up again and ready to go."
George North (Northampton Saints) - "It would be really nice to come home to Cardiff for the Heineken Cup final in May, but we have two very difficult games against Leinster to overcome before we can start thinking about that.
"We could and should have won in Castres in the first round, but that defeat has made our task all the more difficult.
"As former winners, Leinster have proven themselves on the European stage time after time. They have a very physical pack and some superb backs, so we are expecting two high-paced and very tough games.
"The Heineken Cup is a massive tournament and for those of us who have been playing international rugby this past month it will be a case of merely stepping across. It won't be a step down in standard in any way.
"For those players who have been keeping Northampton Saints going so well in the Premiership and LV= Cup while we've been away on Test duty, it will be a step up in standard. But these are the games that everyone looks forward to."
Current Form - Northampton Saints - (Aviva Premiership): Won 38-11 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Won 13-6 away to Harlequins; Lost 26-24 away to Gloucester; Won 33-14 at home to Sale Sharks; Drew 19-19 away to Leicester Tigers; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-13 away to Castres Olympique; Won 27-16 at home to the Ospreys; (Aviva Premiership): Won 41-20 at home to Saracens; Won 19-14 away to London Irish; (LV= Cup): Won 33-6 at home to Gloucester; Won 39-18 away to London Irish; (Aviva Premiership): Won 18-0 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Won 33-10 away to Worcester Warriors
Leinster - (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-19 away to the Scarlets; Drew 29-29 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 12-6 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 19-15 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-9 away to the Ospreys; Won 19-7 at home to Castres Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 16-13 at home to Connacht; Won 23-19 away to Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 21-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 36-19 at home to the Scarlets
Top Scorers - 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Northampton Saints - Points: Stephen Myler 20; Tries: Dylan Hartley, Samu Manoa, Christian Day, Ben Foden 1 each; Leinster - Points: Jimmy Gopperth 28; Tries: Sean O'Brien, Jack McGrath 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 3
Saturday, May 21, 2011 - Final - Leinster 33 Northampton Saints 22, Millennium Stadium
Friday, October 27, 2000 - Pool 1 - Leinster 40 Northampton Saints 31, Donnybrook
Saturday, October 21, 2000 - Pool 1 - Northampton Saints 8 Leinster 14, Franklin's Gardens
Heineken Cup Records:
Northampton Saints -
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals
|17/12/16||Leinster Rugby||60 - 13||Northampton Saints||38,584|
|9/12/16||Northampton Saints||10 - 37||Leinster Rugby||15,151|
|14/12/13||Leinster Rugby||9 - 18||Northampton Saints||47,370|