Leinster have a prized European double on their minds this weekend as they look to join Northampton Saints, Bath and London Wasps as winners of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup.
AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP FINAL: Friday, May 17
LEINSTER v STADE FRANCAIS, the RDS, 8pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/RTÉ 2fm/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Jamie Heaslip will lead an experienced Leinster team in Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais at the RDS.
On the day he announced a new one-year deal to remain with Ireland and Leinster, Brian O’Driscoll has been ruled out of the final as he has failed to recover from the back injury he picked up last weekend.
Sean Cronin starts at hooker in a pack which includes seven Irish-qualified forwards. Jack McGrath and Mike Ross complete the front row.
Quinn Roux partners Devin Toner in the second row, with Rhys Ruddock coming into the back row alongside the fit-again Sean O’Brien and number 8 and captain Heaslip.
Fergus McFadden forms the centre partnership with Bank of Ireland Players’ Player of the Year Ian Madigan who will make his 80th Leinster appearance and his ninth in Europe this season.
Isaac Boss is paired with Jonathan Sexton at half-back, while Andrew Conway joins Isa Nacewa and full-back Rob Kearney in the back-three.
Regular skipper Leo Cullen is named among an experienced replacements bench which includes the likes of fellow international forwards Cian Healy, Shane Jennings and Richardt Strauss.
Previewing the clash with the French side, Heaslip said: “It’s great to be going for silverware at this time of the year. It’s been a long year and at times a bit of a rollercoaster.
“But it’s great to be in the Challenge Cup final and all the boys will tell you this is where they want to be – competing for trophies.”
Speaking about the team selection as the province juggle preparations for two big end of season deciders (they face Ulster in the RaboDirect PRO12 final next week), head coach Joe Schmidt admitted: “It’s about us not taking risks.
“We also felt it was a good idea to keep everyone competitive and be able to put some freshness in the squad.
“We’ve scraped through some games at times recently but we are committed to putting people who are 100% fit on the field.
“We gave Brian (O’Driscoll) as much time as we possibly could, we thought he might train today (Thursday) but he didn’t, though I wouldn’t have any concerns about next week (against Ulster).”
Meanwhile, former Leinster prop Stan Wright and ex-Munster full-back Paul Warwick be on the bench for Stade Francais’ visit to Dublin for the Challenge Cup showdown with Schmidt’s men.
There is another Irish connection in the French club’s starting line-up with former Dublin University captain Scott LaValla lining out in the second row alongside Gerhard Mostert.
Stade were hammered 52-17 by Biarritz Olympique last time out in the Top 14 Championship, but they fielded a weakened team that day and have a number of their frontliners back in place for this trip to the Irish capital.
Centre Paul Williams is the only survivor in a back-line which is led by half-backs Jules Plisson and the well-travelled Julien Dupuy.
It is all change for a pack that contains a dangerous back row combination of ex-Wallaby David Lyons, former French international Pierre Rabadan and talismanic captain Sergio Parisse from Italy.
Stade Francais coach Christophe Laussucq says his charges will need to ‘play the game of their lives’ if they are to walk away with Challenge Cup silverware.
“The odds are stacked in Leinster’s favour with home advantage and the fact that they are the reigning Heineken Cup champions. But we have got nothing to lose and deserve to be in the final,” he said.
“A final always counts in the career of a player or a coach. Maybe we’ll play the best game we have ever played, maybe Leinster will not be that good that night…it’s up to us to make them struggle but our chances of winning there remain very slim.
“We’ll need to be more agressive, efficient in Leinster’s strong areas and good in defence. Every scrum, every ruck will be a battle.
“The players will have to play their best game of the season, and it may still not be enough. Leinster have prepared themselves for a final in Dublin for over a year – it is just not the one they expected to be in (the Amlin rather than the Heineken Cup final).”
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Andrew Conway, Fergus McFadden, Ian Madigan, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Quinn Roux, Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy, Jamie Hagan, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, David Kearney.
STADE FRANCAIS: Jérome Porical; Jérémy Sinzelle, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Paul Williams, Hugo Bonneval; Jules Plisson, Julien Dupuy; Aled de Malmanche, Laurent Sempere, Rabah Slimani, Scott LaValla, Gerhard Mostert, David Lyons, Pierre Rabadan, Sergio Parisse (capt).
Replacements: Remi Bonfils, Stan Wright, Jérémy Becasseau, Anton van Zyl, Lei Tomiki, Waisea Vuidarvuwalu, Julien Arias, Paul Warwick.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Ian Davies (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/7; Draw: 33/1; Stade Francais to win: 11/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Isaac Boss (Leinster) – “They (Stade) have got a very strong tea. They haven’t done as well in the league as they should this season, but I think they have got a real focus on this Amlin tournament.
“They have won twice away from home, beating Perpignan and Bath, so they are definitely not scared of coming here. It’s going to be a lot tougher than Biarritz were (in our semi-final).
“We have put everything into this Amlin competition because that is the way the team plays. We are gunning for Stade Francais.”
Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais) – “The club has never won a European trophy and that is an historic objective for us. It also means that the players who will stay next season could play in the Heineken Cup.
“We have to play the game free in our minds – just like we did at Bath in the quarter-finals. Above all, we shouldn’t be afraid. However, we are not favourites because we will be against a team that has huge experience in this kind of game.
“They (Leinster) have got fewer weaknesses than most teams, but I enjoyed a great victory this season with Italy against Ireland when we were not favourites and we won that Six Nations match.
“It would be wonderful to win the trophy, and I just hope that the guys who play in the final earn a lot of experience from the occasion of a cup final.”
Current Form – Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 45-20 away to the Scarlets; Won 45-25 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 19-18 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 22-16 at home to Edinburgh; Lost 34-6 away to Connacht; Won 30-21 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 9-6 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Won 20-13 away to the Scarlets; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 59-22 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 19-10 away to the Ospreys; Won 6-0 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 37-7 at home to Zebre; (Heineken Cup): Lost 15-12 away to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 28-21 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 27-19 away to Ulster; Won 17-0 at home to Connacht; Won 31-16 away to Edinburgh; (Heineken Cup): Won 33-14 at home to the Scarlets; Won 29-20 away to Exeter Chiefs; (RaboDirect PRO12); Won 26-11 away to the Cardiff Blues; Won 40-5 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 32-5 at home to the Scarlets; Won 26-19 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 22-17 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 22-18 at home to Ulster; (Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final): Won 48-28 away to London Wasps; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 22-16 away to Munster; Won 41-22 away to Zebre; (Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final): Won 44-16 at home to Biarritz Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 37-19 at home to the Ospreys; (RaboDirect PRO12 semi-final): Won 17-15 at home to Glasgow Warriors
Stade Francais – (Top 14 Championship): Won 32-16 at home to Montpellier; Lost 24-11 away to Bayonne; Lost 26-12 away to Grenoble; Drew 20-20 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 30-22 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 34-24 at home to Perpignan; Lost 28-25 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 30-28 away to Mont-de-Marsan; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Won 68-19 away to London Welsh; Won 28-25 at home to Grenoble; (Top 14 Championship): Won 28-24 at home to Toulouse; Lost 24-19 away to Toulon; Won 20-13 at home to Agen; Lost 23-15 away to Racing Metro 92; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Won 37-23 away to I Cavalieri Prato; Won 29-6 at home to I Cavalieri Prato; (Top 14 Championship): Won 36-23 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 54-16 away to Montpellier; Won 21-13 at home to Bayonne; (Amlin Challenge Cup): Lost 15-9 away to Grenoble; Won 39-17 at home to London Welsh; (Top 14 Championship): Won 35-6 at home to Grenoble; Lost 44-13 away to Castres Olympique; Won 30-14 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Lost 32-16 away to Perpignan; Lost 37-10 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Won 42-14 at home to Mont-de-Marsan; Lost 43-16 away to Toulouse; Lost 43-11 at home to Toulon; (Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final): Won 36-20 away to Bath; (Top 14 Championship): Won 28-20 away to Agen; Won 19-16 at home to Racing Metro 92; (Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final): Won 25-22 away to Perpignan; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 52-17 away to Biarritz Olympique
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Amlin Challenge Cup/Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 79; Tries: Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Isa Nacewa 3 each; Stade Francais – Points: Jérome Porical 41; Tries: Francis Fainifo 6
Previous Heineken Cup Meetings: 4
Friday, December 17, 1999 – Pool 1 – Leinster 24 Stade Francais 23, Donnybrook
Sunday, December 12, 1999 – Pool 1 – Stade Francais 39 Leinster 6, Stade Jean Bouin
Saturday, October 17, 1998 – Pool A – Stade Francais 56 Leinster 31, Stade Jean Bouin
Friday, September 25, 1998 – Pool A – Leinster 17 Stade Francais 28, Donnybrook
Match Facts And Figures –
– Leinster are the only survivors from the three Heineken Cup pool runners-up who qualified for the knockout stages of the Amlin Challenge Cup
– Stade Francais will be playing in their second Amlin Challenge Cup final having lost to Harlequins (19-18) in the 2011 decider
– Leinster will be appearing in a first Amlin Challenge Cup final and as former Heineken Cup champions will be bidding to become the fourth club (after Bath, London Wasps and Northampton Saints) to win both ERC tournaments
– Stade Francais are one of six French clubs to have played in an Amlin Challenge Cup final along with Clermont Auvergne (2004 finalists and 2007 winners), Pau (2005 finalists), Bourgoin (2009 finalists), Toulon (2010 finalists) and Biarritz Olympique (2012 winners)
– Leinster are the first Irish province to qualify for an Amlin Challenge Cup final. The only other non-English or non-French teams who have appeared in a tournament final are the 2010 winners, Cardiff Blues, and Pontypridd who were defeated by Sale Sharks in 2002
– Just four of 16 Amlin Challenge Cup finals since 1997 have not featured a French club
– Despite regularly reaching finals, last season’s all-French Amlin Challenge Cup final produced the first French winner of the trophy (Biarritz Olympique) since 2007 when Clermont Auvergne beat Bath
– The tournament is guaranteed new champions this season, and there have been 12 different winners of the trophy since 1997
Amlin Challenge Cup Records:
Stade Francais –
2011/12: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the semi-finals