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Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final Preview: Leinster v Biarritz Olympique

Amlin Challenge Cup Semi-Final Preview: Leinster v Biarritz Olympique

Biarritz Olympique are the visitors to the RDS for Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final as Leinster look to take the next step on the way to claiming an historic third European trophy in consecutive seasons.


LEINSTER v BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE, the RDS, 2.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/RTÉ Radio 1/Newstalk/highlights TG4)

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Team News: The Leinster team to face Biarritz Olympique in Saturday afternoon’s sold-out Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final at the RDS has been named.

Leo Cullen, who passed the 200-cap mark in the recent victory over Munster, will lead an experienced line-up that shows a number of changes to the side selected for the bonus point victory away to Zebre last Sunday.

Ian Madigan forms a new-lookg midfield pairing with Brian O’Driscoll, who will make his 83rd European appearance and now lies just four caps behind second-placed Shane Horgan on the province’s all-time list.

Gordon D’Arcy is ruled out due to a calf strain but it is hoped that the Wexford man will fully recover in time for the league visit of the Ospreys next weekend.

The back row unit sees Jamie Heaslip partnering fellow Ireland internationals Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin, while Cian Healy and Mike Ross form an all-Ireland front row alongside hooker Richardt Strauss.

Five of the Leinster replacements have come through the province’s Academy. Saturday’s game is a sell out and there will be no tickets on sale on the day.

This is a meeting between the 2012 Heineken Cup champions and Amlin Challenge Cup winners, with Leinster bidding to reach their fourth European final in the space of five seasons.

Biarritz qualified for the last-four with a 41-31 quarter-final victory away to Gloucester, and Brian O’Driscoll rates the French visitors highly.

“Biarritz are going to be tough opponents but we like to think we will be a handful ourselves. Looking at some of their video footage they look like a side who should be much further up the league than in 11th place in the Top 14,” he said.

“We know they have got some very, very talented players – guys who we have known and played against for years.

“And any team that has managed to be in the Heineken Cup year after year coming out of the French league has to be pretty good going.”

Meanwhile, Biarritz Olympique are back at full throttle after resting a number of players in their 16-0 domestic defeat to Bordeaux-Begles last time out.

Full-back Marcelo Bosch and Welsh winger Aled Brew are the only survivors in the back-line, as the speedy Takudzwa Ngwenya, centres Benoît Baby and Damien Traille and half-backs Jean-Pascal Barraque and Dimitri Yachvili all return.

Raphael Lakafia reverts to openside flanker as captain Imanol Harinordoquy and Thibault Dubarry bolster the Basque club’s back row.

Samoan international lock Pelu Taele is the only player retained in the front five, with hooker Arnaud Heguy, the scorer of three tries in European action this season, packing down alongside props Ben Broster and Thomas Synaeghel.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Ian Madigan, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Jamie Hagan, Quinn Roux, Rhys Ruddock, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, Andrew Conway.

BIARRITZ OLYMPIQUE: Marcelo Bosch; Takudzwa Ngwenya, Benoît Baby, Damien Traille, Aled Brew; Jean-Pascal Barraque, Dimitri Yachvili; Thomas Synaeghel, Arnaud Heguy, Ben Broster, Erik Lund, Pelu Taele, Thibault Dubarry, Raphael Lakafia, Imanol Harinordoquy (capt).

Replacements: Benoit August, Eugène Van Staden, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Mathias Marie, Wenceslas Lauret, Yann Lesgourgues, Seremaïa Burotu, Teddy Thomas.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner, Paul Dix (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/6; Draw: 28/1; Biarritz Olympique to win: 5/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “Someone described Biarritz to me as ‘a cup team’ and I think they are. They don’t have the depth in their roster that some of the other (French) clubs do have.

“When they are missing some of their marquee players, they don’t have quite the same ability to control games, to dominate opponents, to construct play.

“They are the sort of team through the longer period of the league, they have had a number of guys injured – (Imanol) Harinordoquy and (Dimitri) Yachvili, they missed the whole front end of the season. So did Damien Traille.

“Those sort of guys coming back lift the guys around them. Unfortunately for us, all those guys have just come back on stream at the right time. Having all those guys back, three or four weeks ago, they played a Clermont team that wasn’t too far off full strength and beat them on merit.

“That is why they are such a dangerous cup team. For one game at a time, they are really dangerous, especially when they’ve got their core players available.

“Biarritz are incredibly hard to break down. I know that the last game that Clermont lost at Stade Marcel Michelin was against Biarritz because I was coaching there at the time.

“You’ve got to take your chances against Biarritz. They have a very strong defensive system with very strong defenders in amongst it. They have a very strong spine through Harinordoquy to Yachvili to Damien Traille.”

Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz Olympique) – “We have a title to defend but we will have to produce the match of the year in order to keep up the challenge in Dublin. We can play without pressure – just play our rugby – and keep working hard.

“We’ll have to be very efficient in all we do, very good in defence and very good at the rucks as that is Leinster’s trump card in defence – they succeed in holding guys up and getting turnovers.

“And then with Jonathan Sexton in their side you cannot give them the chances for him to kick the points.

“Leinster are a massive team – they are the Heineken Cup champions – and they were unlucky to be in with Clermont in the pool stages.

“It is a big challenge for us and although we have had a very hard season, our season is not finished because we are in this semi-final and we will do our very best in the match.”

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

Biarritz Olympique – (Top 14 Championship): Won 35-10 at home to Mont-de-Marsan; Won 25-19 away to Agen; Won 22-17 at home to Toulouse; Won 27-8 at home to Montpellier; Lost 28-13 away to Castres Olympique; Lost 13-12 away to Racing Metro 92; Lost 16-15 at home to Bayonne; Lost 36-9 at home to Toulon; (Heineken Cup): Lost 40-13 away to Harlequins; Won 38-17 at home to Zebre; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 19-12 away to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 34-21 away to Grenoble; Won 15-3 at home to Perpignan; Won 25-22 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; (Heineken Cup): Lost 22-14 away to Connacht; Won 17-0 at home to Connacht; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 36-23 away to Stade Francais; Won 19-18 away to Mont-de-Marsan; Won 16-11 at home to Agen; (Heineken Cup): Won 32-6 away to Zebre; Lost 16-9 at home to Harlequins; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 19-14 away to Toulouse; Lost 33-10 away to Montpellier; Won 15-9 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 23-11 at home to Racing Metro 92; Drew 6-6 away to Bayonne; Lost 50-15 away to Toulon; Won 32-28 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Won 33-16 at home to Grenoble; (Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final): Won 41-31 away to Gloucester; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 33-28 away to Perpignan; Lost 16-0 away to Bordeaux-Begles

Top Scorers – 2012/13 Amlin Challenge Cup/Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 62; Tries: Rob Kearney 3; Biarritz Olympique – Points: Dimitri Yachvili 50; Tries: Arnaud Heguy, Seremaïa Burotu 3 each

Previous Heineken Cup Meetings: 5

Saturday, January 31, 2004 – Pool 3 – Biarritz Olympique 32 Leinster 21, Parc des Sports Aguilera
Saturday, December 6, 2003 – Pool 3 – Leinster 32 Biarritz Olympique 6, Lansdowne Road
Saturday, April 12, 2003 – Quarter-final – Leinster 18 Biarritz Olympique 13, Lansdowne Road
Saturday, January 20, 2001 – Pool 1 – Biarritz Olympique 30 Leinster 10, Parc des Sports Aguilera
Friday, October 13, 2000 – Pool 1 – Leinster 35 Biarritz Olympique 9, Donnybrook

Match Facts And Figures –

– Leinster have faced Biarritz on five occasions in the Heineken Cup. They have won three and lost two of those game, though their last meeting came in January 2004

– Jamie Heaslip has made more carries than any other player in ERC competitions this season; the Ireland captain has carried the ball on 95 occasions so far

– Leinster have lost their last two matches against French opposition in Europe (both v Clermont Auvergne this season) but were unbeaten in their previous six

– Takudzwa Ngwenya was the top metre-maker in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals, carrying the ball for 163 metres

– Biarritz have reached five European semi-finals before and have advanced from the last-four in three of those matches

Amlin Challenge Cup Records:

Leinster –

Biarritz Olympique –
2011/12: Champions
1999/00: Reached the quarter-finals
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool 7