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Champions Leinster Return To Clermont Cauldron

Champions Leinster Return To Clermont Cauldron

The big matches are coming thick and fast for Cian Healy whether in the green of Ireland or the blue of Leinster, and he would have it no other way.

Next Sunday Leinster will lock horns with Clermont Auvergne for the seventh time in the Heineken Cup, a heavyweight rivalry that has simmered since April 2010.

Back then Jamie Heaslip’s two-try salvo and 19 points from the boot of Jonathan Sexton steered the province to a nervy one-point quarter-final win at the RDS.

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Four more victories have followed for Leinster, including last April’s tense 19-15 victory at the Stade Chaban Delmas in which Cian Healy scored the only try.

Healy has a welcome habit of notching tries against Clermont Auvergne, with three of his five Heineken Cup touchdowns to date coming against the French giants.

He scored a brilliant brace in the pre-Christmas win at the Aviva Stadium in 2010, and followed up on a Rob Kearney break to crash over in last season’s semi-final success in Bordeaux.

Introduced as a second half replacement, the 25-year-old prop exploded into life against Zebre last Saturday night in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Amid a series of barnstorming carries, Healy’s try secured the bonus point for Leinster against the Italian newcomers, keeping them on track for a play-off spot.

Pleased with the winning platform, he said: “Yeah, it was great for us to get a few tries, get a good bit of running and get through a few of our moves.

“Obviously it’s a positive edge getting a win heading into the next two weeks (in the Heineken Cup).”

Although Brian O’Driscoll and Rob Kearney are injured for these back-to-back pool clashes with Clermont Auvergne, second row Quinn Roux (dislocated shoulder) is the sole absentee up front.

As ever, the battle between the front rows at the Stade Marcel Michelin will be fascinating with recent Ireland cap Richardt Strauss scrumming down alongside his new international colleagues Healy and Mike Ross.

Behind them, Joe Schmidt can call on three more international front rowers – Sean Cronin, South Africa’s Heinke van der Merwe and recent Ireland debutant Michael Bent.

“We have great depth in the front row department now. We have all sorts of players coming through,” admitted Healy.

“Jack (McGrath) is there as well, Marty Moore and Jamie Hagan at tighthead as well so we are prepped for all elements. You know you can empty the tank when there is quality there.

”It has been working well with Heinke and myself so far. We have gotten to a level of understanding of where we push ourselves.

“It’s quite good for the squad to have players who can go all out, not trying to save a single thing. You can put your feet up after.”

That strength in depth could prove crucial as Clermont boast a settled front row of Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser and Davit Zirakashvili, with the latter two having started against Leinster seven months ago.

Healy says ‘same old faces’ when asked about the French club’s propping options, but is mindful of them having ‘some new tricks up their sleeves’.

Leinster’s aim this weekend is an obvious one as they seek to win at the Stade Marcel Michelin for the first time, thus moving to the top of Pool 5 ahead of the return date in Dublin next week.

The venue is a real fortress for Clermont who are unbeaten there since November 2009, a superb streak which recently passed through the 50-match mark.

Both sides came through the opening Heineken Cup rounds with two wins each, although Vern Cotter’s men ran in 12 tries to Leinster’s one and have two try-scoring bonus points as a result.

A tight encounter is in the offing, the history of this match-up and the high stakes involved would suggest that it will be a ‘one score’ game.

Five wins and one loss is an excellent record for Leinster against a side of Clermont’s undoubted class, and Healy recognises they will need a strong showing from the entire squad in order to maintain their winning form in Europe.

“First thing you do is target a win. Anything after that is just an add-on. We are looking for a performance as well. We want to be at the top of our game and really play well,” he explained.

“It’s good with everyone coming back together and people back from injury. To get that big performance would be great, especially against such a physical side with the defence they have.

“We’re focused on Clermont and what we have to do. It’s a big game, a big two games. The lads know they are going to have to go to the well this week and really dig it out.”