Leinster will be bolstered by the return of Grand Slam duo Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald as they look to end Harlequins’ Heineken Cup aspirations and qualify for the semi-final stage for the first time since 2006.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Saturday, April 11
HARLEQUINS v LEINSTER, Twickenham Stoop, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Harlequins in Sunday afternoon’s Heineken Cup quarter-final tie at the Twickenham Stoop has been named.
Grand Slam-winning duo Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald return to the starting line-up for the first time since the RBS 6 Nations.
O’Driscoll partners Gordon D’Arcy at centre, while in the pack, Bernard Jackman has been named at hooker despite doubts over his knee injury.
Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip join Bank of Ireland Player of the Month Rocky Elsom in the back row.
Girvan Dempsey gets the nod to start on the replacements bench, following the failure to overturn Jonathan Sexton’s appeal against a two-week suspension.
Looking forward to Sunday’s showdown, Leinster captain Leo Cullen said: “We’re in the quarter-finals of Europe. Everyone has a good home record of those left in the competition, that’s why they’re playing at home, so it’s going to be tough.
“I don’t think the result (against Munster) from last weekend will change things. Obviously it’s disappointing that we didn’t win the game but Munster were full value for their win.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand-capped out-half Nick Evans has been passed fit to take his place in the Harlequins team to take on Leinster, following his recovery from an ankle injury. Chris Malone drops to the bench.
Team captain Will Skinner also returns to lead the ‘Quins side after missing the victory over Bath last weekend with a stomach bug.
He will link up again with Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter in the hosts’ back row, while Ireland ‘A’ prop Mike Ross will enjoy a front row duel with Leinster’s Cian Healy.
The only other change to the side that beat Bath is in midfield. Jordan Turner-Hall once again takes the number 12 jersey, to partner Gonzalo Tiesi, with Ugo Monye and David Strettle on the wings and Mike Brown at full-back.
HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; David Strettle, Gonzalo Tiesi, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ugo Monye; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Ceri Jones, Gary Botha, Mike Ross, James Percival, George Robson, Chris Robshaw, Will Skinner (capt), Nick Easter.
Replacements: Tani Fuga, Mark Lambert, Jim Evans, Tom Guest, Andy Gomarsall, Chris Malone, Tom Williams.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Felipe Contepomi, Chris Whitaker; Cian Healy, Bernard Jackman, Stan Wright, Leo Cullen (capt), Malcolm O’Kelly, Rocky Elsom, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: John Fogarty, Ronan McCormack, Trevor Hogan, Sean O’Brien, Simon Keogh, Girvan Dempsey, Shane Horgan.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Whitehouse, Hugh Watkins (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Harlequins to win: 4/5; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 11/10
Pre-Match Quotes: Michael Cheika (Leinster) – “Preparation isn’t any more difficult (after the Munster defeat). There’s the disappointment factor that you have to leave behind, but you must ensure that you take the failings from our performance down in Limerick and improve them because we’re going into a very similar environment.
“It’s a big game in someone else’s arena, so we’ve got to make sure that we take stock of the failings that we may have had and add them to the positive things that we had in that game and take that to London.
“It’s very important for us to keep a very strong concentration on our own performance and not worry about the extra factors.
“We have been in this position before and we’ve got to use that experience to make sure we’re very focused on the day, not so much (worry) about what Harlequins are going to do.
“It’s going to be a big test for us over there because playing away from home any time in Europe is difficult.
“We understand that the focus is ourselves and we can’t allow factors like – where we’re playing or their form there – to enter our heads.”
Dean Richards (Harlequins) – “Our form of late has been good and in many ways we are probably the side that most people fear. We’ve come from nowhere – a poor run in last season’s Heineken Cup and a mild record in last season’s Guinness Premiership – means we have nothing to lose and have everything to gain, so the expectations are low.
“Couple that with our ‘Quins’ style and our undoubted fantastic team spirit, and it means that we have things going for us that most sides haven’t – ambition, flair and belief.
“The relative anonymity of our young side, who have little international experience compared to that of the Leinster side, should see Leinster wondering what they are likely to expect from us.
“However, our opponents are an experienced team who are a real force to be reckoned with. They have a host of world class players, with the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Rocky Elsom, Felipe Contepomi and Jamie Heaslip to name but a few.
“They boast 19 full internationals and seven Ireland ‘A’ internationals within their extended squad. Having always been the bridesmaids in this competition, I’m sure they’ll be aiming to make amends on Sunday afternoon.”
Heineken Cup Top Scorers – Current Season: Harlequins: Tries: Tom Williams 4; Points: Nick Evans 33; Leinster: Tries: Brian O’Driscoll 4; Points: Felipe Contepomi 55
Current Form – Harlequins – (Guinness Premiership): Won 24-21 away to Saracens; Won 31-13 at home to Bristol; Lost 24-20 away to Gloucester; Lost 28-27 at home to London Irish; Won 30-23 away to Worcester Warriors; (EDF Energy Cup): Lost 24-23 away to the Ospreys; (Heineken Cup): Won 29-22 away to the Scarlets; Won 42-21 at home to Ulster; (EDF Energy Cup): Lost 32-17 at home to London Irish; Won 27-14 away to Worcester Warriors; (Guinness Premiership): Won 32-10 at home to London Wasps; Lost 27-14 away to Leicester Tigers; Won 21-14 at home to Bath; (Heineken Cup): Won 15-10 away to Stade Francais; Won 19-17 at home to Stade Francais; (Guinness Premiership): Lost 23-13 away to Northampton Saints; Drew 26-26 away to Leicester Tigers; Lost 24-18 away to London Wasps; (Heineken Cup): Lost 21-10 away to Ulster; Won 29-24 at home to the Scarlets; (Guinness Premiership): Won 27-6 at home to Northampton Saints; Won 14-9 away to London Irish; Won 14-9 at home to Gloucester; Won 17-14 away to Bristol; Won 21-15 at home to Saracens; Lost 24-16 away to Newcastle Falcons; Won 38-20 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 60-14 at home to Worcester Warriors; Won 19-3 away to Bath
Leinster – (Magners League): Drew 16-16 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 52-6 at home to Edinburgh; Won 19-13 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 18-0 at home to Munster; Lost 19-18 away to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 27-16 away to Edinburgh; Won 41-11 at home to London Wasps; (Magners League): Lost 15-21 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 29-13 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Won 33-3 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 18-15 away to Castres Olympique; (Magners League): Won 21-13 away to Ulster; Won 26-18 at home to Connacht; Won 21-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-12 away to London Wasps; Won 12-3 at home to Edinburgh; (Magners League): Won 31-17 away to the Scarlets; Won 13-8 away to the Ospreys; Won 32-6 at home to Ulster; Lost 22-5 away to Munster
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1997/98: Reached the quarter-finals
1996/97: Reached the quarter-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
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Leinster to win by less than 7 points