Reigning Heineken Cup champions and current Pool 3 leaders Leinster face a tough test when they travel to face Bath in the first of their back-to-back clashes before Christmas.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 3: Sunday, December 11
BATH (2nd) v LEINSTER (1st), Recreation Ground, 12.45pm (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/Newstalk)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Bath in Sunday’s Heineken Cup Pool 3 match at the Recreation Ground has been named.
There are several changes to the side that defeated Glasgow Warriors in the previous round with Fergus McFadden named at outside centre alongside Gordon D’Arcy.
Up front, Damian Browne makes his second start in the Heineken Cup this term. The Galway man will partner skipper Leo Cullen in the second row, with hooker Richardt Strauss named in the front row alongside Heinke van der Merwe and Mike Ross.
The versatile Kevin McLaughlin joins fellow Ireland internationals Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien in the back row.
Isaac Boss, D’Arcy and Rob Kearney, who were all try-scorers in the 38-13 victory over Glasgow at the RDS last month, have been selected to start once again.
Meanwhile, Ireland internationals Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan and Devin Toner are named on a strong looking replacements bench.
Meanwhile, Southern Hemisphere duo Francois Louw and Stephen Donald will be back in action for Bath in Sunday’s crunch clash.
Captain Louw comes in at blindside flanker, with Guy Mercer and Simon Taylor completing the back row.
Former Ulster lock Ryan Caldwell and Dave Attwood combine in the second row, while David Flatman and David Wilson scrum down either side of American international Chris Biller, who will make his first start for Bath.
New Zealand World Cup winner Donald returns to partner Michael Claassens at half-back, as Matt Banahan and Jack Cuthbert line up in the wings.
The talented Olly Barkley and Dan Hipkiss form a new centre partnership, with fellow England international Nick Abendanon returning to full-back.
BATH: Nick Abendanon; Jack Cuthbert, Dan Hipkiss, Olly Barkley, Matt Banahan; Stephen Donald, Michael Claassens; David Flatman, Chris Biller, David Wilson, Dave Attwood, Ryan Caldwell, Francois Louw (capt), Guy Mercer, Simon Taylor.
Replacements: Charlie Beech, Nathan Catt, Anthony Perenise, Will Spencer, Andy Beattie, Chris Cook, Tom Heathcote, Sam Vesty.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Damian Browne, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Eoin O’Malley.
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Patrick Pechambert, Franck Maciello (both France)
Television Match Official: Jean-Claude Levrier (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Bath to win: 2/1; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 4/11
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “Putting it in context and looking at the quality there is in Bath, it is going to be very tough ask on Sunday. It is over on a ground that is very sticky, it is hard to get a real momentum and I think that might slow us down a bit.
“That means it becomes a bit more of a grind, the scores tend to stay closer together and you have to stay fully concentrated throughout the full 80 minutes.
“They were probably pretty unlucky to lose to Glasgow as they had 60-65% possession and dominated territory. But that is the nature of Glasgow, you can’t take them cheaply and they know how to fight for every inch.
“Occasionally they make those inches into yards like Richie Gray did with a fortuitous bounce at the end of the game. Bath lost that one and they had a tough workout against Montpellier as well.
“Montpellier went close to knocking them over in the last five minutes when there was only three points between them. They will be grounded and gritty.”
Michael Claassens (Bath) – “After two games last year we were already almost as good as out of the tournament. If you don’t win your home games you will be on the way out of the tournament – and you need to get at least a losing bonus point away from home as well.
“This time our pool is very open as there is two points between us and Leinster, a point between us and Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier are close as well.
“All four teams in our group still have a shout of going through. The main thing for us is to make sure we beat Leinster this weekend.
“If we can get a win against them at home everything will really open up and it will be a massive game against them away the following week.
“It is definitely a boost having them at home first – it does make a difference. I don’t know if it’s mental or what, but it’s always easier playing at home with your own fans behind you.
“However, Leinster are very consistent. Every week they give themselves a chance of winning the game so we’ll have to be at our best. They were champions last season and that speaks for itself. They’re a class outfit and they’ve got so many Irish internationals in their squad.”
Current Form – Bath – (Aviva Premiership): Won 22-9 away to Newcastle Falcons; Lost 28-26 at home to Saracens; Won 23-19 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Lost 23-6 away to Gloucester; Won 26-25 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 27-24 away to London Wasps; (LV= Cup): Won 46-16 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 46-13 at home to Worcester Warriors; (Aviva Premiership): Won 13-12 away to London Irish; Lost 26-13 at home to Harlequins; (Heineken Cup): Lost 26-21 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 16-13 at home to Montpellier; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 16-7 away to Worcester Warriors; Lost 16-13 at home to Sale Sharks
Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 27-3 away to the Ospreys; Won 31-10 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-19 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 15-10 away to the Scarlets; Won 26-7 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 30-20 at home to Connacht; Won 36-28 away to Edinburgh; Won 24-19 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Drew 16-16 with Montpellier; Won 38-13 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 30-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 52-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Bath – Points: Tom Heathcote 18; Tries: Olly Woodburn, David Flatman 1 each; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 22; Tries: Eoin O’Malley 2
Previous European Meetings: 4
Sunday, January 22, 2006 – Pool 5 – Bath 23 Leinster 35, Recreation Ground
Saturday, October 22, 2005 – Pool 5 – Leinster 19 Bath 22, the RDS
Saturday, January 8, 2005 – Pool 2 – Bath 23 Leinster 27, Recreation Ground
Saturday, October 30, 2004 – Pool 2 – Leinster 30 Bath 11, Lansdowne Road
Heineken Cup Records:
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
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals