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European Champions Cup Preview: Leinster v Harlequins

European Champions Cup Preview: Leinster v Harlequins

Harlequins hold a three-point lead at the top of European Champions Cup Pool 2 ahead of Leinster’s rematch with the Londoners at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOL 2: Saturday, December 13

LEINSTER (2nd) v HARLEQUINS (1st), Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm (live BT Sport 2/Newstalk/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Leinster have made four personnel changes in total from last Sunday’s starting line-up with Dominic Ryan, Kane Douglas, Isaac Boss and Zane Kirchner selected from the start, and two positional switches on the back of those changes.

Boss makes his 109th appearance in a Leinster jersey having come off the bench at the Twickenham Stoop. He partners Jimmy Gopperth at half-back.

Outside of the half-backs, Ian Madigan continues in the number 12 shirt with Luke Fitzgerald switching from the left wing to outside centre in place of the injured Gordon D’Arcy who was not able to shake off a slight calf injury.

Madigan has now surpassed 600 points for Leinster. With 624 points to his name, he is now the province’s third highest point scorer behind Jonathan Sexton on 1,027 and Felip Contepomi on 1,225.

As a result of Fitzgerald’s positional switch, Darragh Fanning swaps wings and will start on the left wing with South African Kirchner on the right. Rob Kearney continues at full-back.

In the pack it is as you were in the front row with Jack McGrath, hooker Sean Cronin and Mike Ross again selected, while Australian international Douglas comes into the second row to partner Devin Toner.

Finally, in the back row, Ryan has shaken off his quad injury to take his place at openside flanker with Rhys Ruddock and captain Jamie Heaslip completing the front eight.

Commenting on the team selection, head coach Matt O’Connor said: “Luke is incredibly dangerous with the ball, he’s physical, he understands. He’s played a hell of a lot of top-class rugby so he knows the dynamics.

“He’s going to be a little bit rusty (at outside centre), he hasn’t played a lot of rugby there in the last little bit, so we’ll be trying to make sure that the guys in and around that are doing their bits and pieces.

“The physicality of it at breakdown and the bits and pieces that are the biggest strengths in Bossy’s game are going to be important, certainly in the first 30 or 40 minutes of it. The change-up that we get with Eoin (Reddan) on the field for the last half an hour will be very, very important.

“Dominic’s been fantastic for us. He’s been as good a forward as we’ve had all year and it was that opportunity to freshen it up with a short turnaround. It will give us a little bit of thrust in that position hopefully.”

Tickets are still on sale at www.leinsterrugby.ie/tickets. They can also be bought on match day from the Ticketmaster outlet in the Ballsbridge Hotel.

Meanwhile, Harlequins boss Conor O’Shea has made two changes in personnel for his side’s date with Leinster in Dublin.

Nick Evans and Chris Robshaw, who were ruled out of the round 4 fixture earlier this week, are the only two absentees from last Sunday’s squad. Tim Swiel starts at out-half, with Jack Clifford named in the back-row.

Following consultation with a specialist, the RFU and the Harlequins medical team, Robshaw is expected to return in three to four weeks. Ross Chisholm and Joe Trayfoot are included on the bench.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Zane Kirchner, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Darragh Fanning; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Kane Douglas, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Michael Bent, Tadhg Furlong, Mike McCarthy, Jack Conan, Eoin Reddan, Noel Reid, Mick McGrath.

HARLEQUINS: Mike Brown; Marland Yarde, Matt Hopper, George Lowe, Asaeli Tikoirotuma; Tim Swiel, Danny Care; Joe Marler (capt), Dave Ward, Will Collier, Charlie Matthews, George Robson, Luke Wallace, Jack Clifford, Nick Easter.

Replacements: Joe Gray, Mark Lambert, Kyle Sinckler, Sam Twomey, Joe Trayfoot, Karl Dickson, Tom Casson, Ross Chisholm.

Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos, Stéphane Boyer (both France)
Television Match Official: Eric Gonthier (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/6; Draw: 25/1; Harlequins to win: 7/2

Pre-Match Quotes: Rhys Ruddock (Leinster) – “I feel we probably underperformed last weekend. Set piece we probably weren’t as effective as we set out to be.

“If we can improve our scrum and get some quality ball to attack from, it will make a big difference to the way the backs are able to play and the way the forwards are able to get into the game.

“It’s a lot easier when you’re getting gain-line to move the ball quickly from the breakdown. If you’re on the back foot, it becomes a lot more difficult to have any real impact in that area and to get people away quick, speed the ball up and then in turn get over the gain-line again. So, a huge focus for the pack has to be set piece this week.

“I’d probably prefer to be in the Aviva (rather than the RDS) this weekend. I just feel it’s such a big occasion whenever you set foot on that field.

“The crowd is a bit bigger, I just feel it’s a pretty special opportunity to play there. I’ve only played there a handful of times so, personally, I think it will lift us.”

George Lowe (Harlequins) – “We have dropped off for a few games but hopefully we can get another good performance this weekend and carry this European form back into the league.

“I had a couple of weeks off because my neck was a bit sore, coming back from an injury like that is always going to be a slow process.

“I don’t feel like I am quite where I was when I got injured and I have got to manage the injury, if it is feeling a bit sore then I have to be reasonable and a bit sensible and the club have been fantastic.

“I went back to see the surgeon and there are no issues with the neck, I feel really good. These are the high profile games that get you noticed, playing Leinster in Dublin is huge.

“We have got four or five good centres at the club so there is competition but recently we have struggled to keep anyone fit so that is the main focus at the moment.”

Current Form – 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; (European Champions Cup): Lost 24-18 away to Harlequins

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; (European Champions Cup): Won 24-18 at home to Leinster

Top Scorers – 2014/15 European Champions Cup: Leinster – Points: Ian Madigan 49; Tries: Darragh Fanning 2; Harlequins – Points: Nick Evans 36; Tries: Danny Care, Charlie Matthews, Nick Easter, Asaeli Tikoirotuma 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 2

Sunday, December 7, 2014 – Pool 2 – Harlequins 24 Leinster 18, Twickenham Stoop
Sunday, April 12, 2009 – Quarter-final – Harlequins 5 Leinster 6, Twickenham Stoop

Match Facts –

– Leinster and Harlequins have faced each other just twice in the competition, winning one apiece. The average winning margin in those two games was under four points

– Asaeli Tikoirotuma was the only player to hit three figures for metres gained in round 3 (106m), this coming from just five carries

– Rob Kearney managed six defenders beaten last weekend, more than any other player in round 3

– Chris Robshaw managed four turnovers won last weekend, a Champions Cup round-high

European Cup Records:

Leinster –
2013/14: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2011/12: Champions
2010/11: Champions
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Champions
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

Harlequins –
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