Leinster begin the defence of their prized Heineken Cup title at the RDS on Friday, taking on London Irish who are currently riding high in the Guinness Premiership. The big question is can Michael Cheika’s men follow up on last weekend’s superb 30-0 dismissal of arch rivals Munster with an equally accomplished display against Bob Casey and his team-mates?
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 6: Friday, October 9
LEINSTER v LONDON IRISH, The RDS, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2)
Team News: The Leinster team to face London Irish in Friday’s much-anticipated Heineken Cup Pool 6 encounter at the RDS has been named.
There is one change to the starting line-up for the province’s opening round showdown with London Irish, with Ireland international Mike Ross starting at tighthead prop in place of the injured Stan Wright.
Eoin Reddan continues his half-back partnership with Jonathan Sexton, with Ireland duo Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Horgan starting on the wings and Isa Nacewa lining up again at full-back.
In the pack, Ross comes into the front row alongside Cian Healy and John Fogarty with skipper Leo Cullen, one of 13 Ireland-qualified players in the starting side, linking up in the second row with Scotland international Nathan Hines.
CJ van der Linde has been included in the matchday squad for the first time this season. The big South African prop joins Bernard Jackman and Ronan McCormack as one of the three front row replacements.
Meanwhile, London Irish coach Toby Booth has made five changes to the starting line-up of the team that defeated Sale Sharks 11-8 at Edgeley Park last Friday.
Rotation of the front row counts for three of the changes – an all international trio of Clarke Dermody, David Paice and Faan Rautenbach start.
The fourth change is on the right wing where Tom Homer starts in place of the injured Adam Thompstone. The final alteration is in the back row where Declan Danaher rotates with Richard Thorpe at blindside flanker.
Ireland international lock Bob Casey, who has made 182 appearances for London Irish, captains the team on his return to the city where he spent much of his early rugby career.
Casey will be eager to put one over on his former side after sitting out Irish’s 24-8 pre-season friendly win at Donnybrook in August.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, John Fogarty, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Bernard Jackman, Ronan McCormack, CJ van der Linde, Malcolm O’Kelly, Sean O’Brien, Simon Keogh, Shaun Berne, Rob Kearney.
LONDON IRISH: Peter Hewat; Tom Homer, Elvis Seveali’i, Seilala Mapusua, Sailosi Tagicakibau; Chris Malone, Paul Hodgson; Clarke Dermody, David Paice, Faan Rautenbach, Nick Kennedy, Bob Casey (capt), Declan Danaher, Steffon Armitage, Chris Hala’Ufia.
Replacements: Danie Coetzee, Dan Murphy, Paulica Ion, Andy Perry, Richard Thorpe, Jamie Lennard, Ryan Lamb, Alfredo Lalanne.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Eric Soulan, Bernard dal Maso (both France)
Television Match Official: Jean-Christophe Gastou (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/3; Draw: 20/1; London Irish to win: 9/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “It was tough enough winning the Heineken Cup last season but I guess it is going to be even tougher defending it – we certainly won’t have any element of surprise on our side this time.
“The squad is desperately hungry to move on and build on the success of last season but the standard of teams simply gets better every year and the French teams, in particular, have recruited very heavily and will be a massive challenge.
“London Irish are a very strong physical side with a number of powerful runners, superbly coached by Toby Booth.
“They will be a real handful and a huge challenge but, as we also like to play a brand of attacking rugby, it should be some match.
“We were a bit ragged getting out of our pool last season and it wasn’t always the prettiest.
“We could have easily gone out in the quarter-finals but being a bit under the radar might have helped us and we certainly rode our luck a bit.”
Toby Booth (London Irish) – “We’re delighted to be back in the Heineken Cup. We want to measure ourselves against the best teams in Europe and they don’t come much bigger than this just now.
“Playing the current champions at home is just the welcome back to the tournament that we wanted! Leinster will have the support of a passionate and vociferous home crowd as we know from our visit six weeks ago.
“Our players have worked hard in training this week and prepared well. They are aware that many hundreds of supporters are traveling to Dublin and will want to give them plenty to cheer about on Friday night.”
Current Form – Leinster – (Magners League): Lost 18-16 away to the Scarlets; Won 23-14 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 18-11 away to the Ospreys; Won 21-19 away to Edinburgh; Won 30-0 at home to Munster
London Irish – (Guinness Premiership): Lost 18-14 away to Saracens; Won 40-10 at home to Gloucester; Won 56-7 away to Leeds Carnegie; Won 28-16 at home to London Wasps; Won 11-8 away to Sale Sharks
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
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
London Irish –
2007/08: Reached the semi-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 5