The two unbeaten teams in Champions Cup Pool 2 meet at the Stoop on Sunday as Leinster look to take a step closer to the knockout stages by overcoming Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins.
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOL 2: Sunday, December 7
HARLEQUINS (1st) v LEINSTER (2nd), Twickenham Stoop, 3.15pm (live BT Sport 2/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor has announced his team ahead of Sunday’s European Champions Cup Pool 2 encounter with Harlequins at the Stoop.
In total there are ten changes to the side that accounted for the Ospreys last weekend in the GUINNESS PRO12, with seven of the switches in the pack and only Jordi Murphy retained in the back row. The three other alterations are at full-back, outside centre and on the left wing.
It is a new front row with Jack McGrath, hooker Sean Cronin and Mike Ross coming in from their successful stint with Ireland during the recent GUINNESS Series.
In the second row, Mike McCarthy was named to start last weekend but was withdrawn as a precaution and after passing the return-to-play protocols this week he has once again been announced to start. Devin Toner packs down beside him for his 155th Leinster appearance.
In the back row Jamie Heaslip returns to captain the province from number 8 with Rhys Ruddock winning his 90th cap at blindside flanker, and the aforementioned Murphy making his first European start this season having missed the opening two rounds with a shoulder injury.
Rob Kearney returns to the full-back berth with Zane Kirchner reverting to the bench, while Darragh Fanning continues his remarkable run of games. He is the only player to have started and finished every game for Leinster this season. To date he has five tries to his name and was named Bank of Ireland Player of the Month for September.
On the left wing Luke Fitzgerald has recovered from the tightness he felt in the lead up to the Treviso game in the PRO12 and is named to start in the back-three.
Eoin Reddan, last week’s captain, and Jimmy Gopperth, who had a 100% record with the boot against the Ospreys, continue at scrum half and out-half respectively, while Ian Madigan has recovered from the ankle injury that forced his withdrawal at half-time, linking up with the returning Gordon D’Arcy in the centre.
Dominic Ryan and Dave Kearney have both missed out on selection due to injury. Both players pulled up in training on Tuesday with quad and hip issues respectively.
Neither player is a long-term concern and with a quick turnaround of games and returning internationals available for selection, they are not being risked with a big two weeks of Champions Cup action ahead and the festive interprovincial games only around the corner.
Ticket sales for the return Champions Cup fixture at the Aviva Stadium against Harlequins on Saturday, December 13 (kick-off 7.45pm) have now gone past the 35,000 mark. Click here to purchase your ticket(s) for next week’s round 4 clash.
Meanwhile, Mike Brown, Marland Yarde, Joe Marler and Chris Robshaw return from international duty with England, with Robshaw making his 200th senior appearance for Harlequins.
The two other changes to the starting line-up see George Lowe and Will Collier start at inside centre and tighthead prop respectively. Among the replacements, Tim Swiel is poised to make his first European appearance.
Danny Care, a key figure for ‘Quins at scrum half, said: “We want to go as far as we can (in the tournament), but we will take each game as it comes. We know how tough Sunday is going to be, but we’re excited to have all our England players back and everyone is really looking forward to it.
“We know how good Leinster can be, we know they have a strong scrum and maul. People like Heaslip and Cronin, the hooker, some really good ball carriers and then you have Eoin Reddan behind the pack who leads the team around really well and is always a threat.
“You then have Gopperth and Madigan, basically two 10s playing 10 and 12. They have some fantastic ball handlers out there and then Kearney out wide can just score tries for fun. There are a lot of threats we must look after.”
HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Marland Yarde, Matt Hopper, George Lowe, Asaeli Tikoirotuma; Nick Evans, Danny Care; Joe Marler (capt), Dave Ward, Will Collier, Charlie Matthews, George Robson, Luke Wallace, Chris Robshaw, Nick Easter.
Replacements: Joe Gray, Mark Lambert, Kyle Sinckler, Sam Twomey, Jack Clifford, Karl Dickson, Tim Swiel, Tom Casson.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Darragh Fanning, Gordon D’Arcy, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Michael Bent, Tadhg Furlong, Kane Douglas, Jack Conan, Isaac Boss, Noel Reid, Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Maxime Chalon, Patrick Péchambert (both France)
Television Match Official: Philippe Bonhoure (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Harlequins to win: 6/5; Draw: 18/1; Leinster to win: 4/6
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt O’Connor (Leinster) – “Harlequins’ current form is largely irrelevant. They’ve had four or five guys who are very instrumental for them away with England, so what they’ve delivered in the last couple of weeks is irrelevant to what’s going to happen on Sunday.
“Their form in Europe has been brilliant. They’re two from two and that’s our focus in making sure that we’re ready for the challenges that go with that.
“The way we beat Northampton (away last December) was very, very pleasing but there were a lot of aspects in that game that were brushed a side because of the result.
“That probably caught us out the following week at home. Away from home in Europe, you’ve got to make sure that your discipline is good, your set piece is good, you have to make sure you look after the ball – if you deliver those things and manage the scoreboard and field position, you give yourself every chance away from home.
“Harlequins are very dangerous with the like of Care, Evans and Yarde – guys that can change the game in an instant. Conor (O’Shea) has done a great job.
“They won the Premiership, a couple of Amlins and they’ve made a couple of semi-finals in the Premiership, so he’s doing a great job. But it’s about being accurate in what we do. We have to make sure that we deliver on our plan and do things on our own terms.”
Conor O’Shea (Harlequins) – “We know we have ability and we haven’t shown it consistently this year. But we have massive ambitions and massive faith in ourselves. We can go on a run and we will.
“On any given day we can beat anybody. We just have to give ourselves a chance. It will be tough and Leinster will put out a squad with 23 internationals. Forget Toulon, Leinster have been the best team in Europe in recent years. They’ve won three Heineken Cups. They had a bad year last year and still won the Rabo. It was a ‘good’ bad season.
“It’s 19 years since I scored (Leinster’s first European Cup try) in Milan and they rewarded me by giving me a fiver to go and buy a meal after! Then I moved to London Irish but our game was frozen off. Leinster were playing Cardiff that night so I gave the team manager a call and said I could come over if they needed me.
“I got a flight over and I played in the semi-final at Lansdowne Road. We lost unfortunately, but I scored. When I was growing up playing for my school, then Leinster and then Ireland was all I ever wanted to do.”
Current Form – Harlequins – (Aviva Premiership): Won 20-15 away to London Irish; Lost 39-0 at home to Saracens; Won 26-23 at home to London Wasps; Lost 36-13 away to Exeter Chiefs; Won 52-0 at home to London Welsh; Lost 22-16 away to Leicester Tigers; (European Champions Cup): Won 25-9 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 23-16 away to Wasps; (LV= Cup): Lost 25-20 away to Saracens; Won 31-21 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Aviva Premiership): Won 22-15 away to Gloucester; Lost 16-12 at home to Sale Sharks; Lost 25-6 away to Bath
Leinster – (GUINNESS PRO12): Lost 22-20 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 42-12 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 10-9 away to Connacht; Won 37-23 at home to Cardiff Blues; Lost 34-23 at home to Munster; Won 20-3 away to Zebre; (European Champions Cup): Won 25-20 at home to Wasps; Won 21-16 away to Castres Olympique; (GUINNESS PRO12): Won 33-8 at home to Edinburgh; Drew 24-24 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 18-12 at home to the Ospreys
Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Harlequins – Points: Nick Evans 33; Tries: Danny Care, Charlie Matthews 1 each; Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 31; Tries: Darragh Fanning 2
Previous European Meetings: 1
Sunday, April 12, 2009 – Quarter-final – Harlequins 5 Leinster 6, Twickenham Stoop
European Cup Records:
2013/14: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2012/13: Reached the quarter-finals
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
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
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2009/10: Reached the semi-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