Leinster will be banking on their excellent away record in Europe – 12 wins and a draw in their last 15 Heineken Cup trips – when they renew rivalries with French challengers Castres on Sunday afternoon.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 1: Sunday, January 12
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE (3rd) v LEINSTER (1st), Stade Pierre Antoine, 1.45pm local time/12.45pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2 red button/Sky Sports Xtra/RTÉ 2fm/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Castres Olympique in Sunday afternoon’s Heineken Cup round 5 game at Stade Pierre Antoine has been named.
In total 12 players are retained from the team that lost to Northampton Saints last month, with head coach Matt O’Connor making a switch at out-half and two further changes in the back row.
After a strong performance off the bench last weekend against Connacht in the RaboDirect PRO12, Jimmy Gopperth starts this time at out-half.
In the back row, Rhys Ruddock has failed to recover from the calf injury he suffered in the second half of the Connacht game and, as a result, Kevin McLaughlin comes back in after a recent lay off with a thumb injury to take his place at blindside flanker.
The other change up front sees the in-form Jordi Murphy retained at openside, with Shane Jennings on the bench.
Otherwise there is a familiar feel to the Leinster line-up with Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald as the back-three, Fitzgerald having recovered from the illness that ruled him out of last weekend’s interprovincial derby at short notice.
Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll are once again selected in the centre, while New Zealander Gopperth will be joined at half-back by Eoin Reddan.
In the pack, it is the same front five as selected last time out in Europe, with Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross in the front row and Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy packing down behind them.
In the back row Jamie Heaslip will captain the side from number 8, with the aforementioned Murphy and McLaughlin alongside him.
Sunday’s game also marks Rob Kearney’s 50th Heineken Cup appearance and as a result he will be awarded an ERC Elite Award.
The Louth native will be presented with a specially commissioned ERC cap after the game and joins other Leinster players like Gordon D’Arcy, Leo Cullen, Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll and Malcolm O’Kelly on the list.
D’Arcy is only five appearances short of 100 Heineken Cup caps and would become the first Leinster player to achieve such a feat.
In further good news from the Leinster camp, Fergus McFadden has come through training this week unscathed and will be in contention for a place in the squad for the visit of the Ospreys in round 6 of the Heineken Cup next Friday.
Meanwhile, top-scoring scrum half Rory Kockott, who touched down against Leinster in October, and number 8 Antonie Claassen are notable absentees from the selected Castres team.
Head coaches David Darricarrère and Serge Milhas have had to plan without the injured duo, as well as France call-up Geoffrey Palis (thumb) and former Ulster flanker Pedrie Wannenburg (thigh) who are also sidelined.
There are only five survivors from the Castres side that started against Leinster in round 2 – they are full-back Brice Dulin, centre Remi Lamerat, out-half and captain Rémi Talès and Scottish pair Max Evans and Richie Gray.
Brice Mach starts on the replacements bench with Marc-Antoine Rallier lining out at hooker in an all-new front row for the reigning French champions.
The 20-year-old Mathieu Babillot gets the nod at blindside flanker alongside once-capped French international Ibrahim Diarra and Samoan number 8 Piula Faasalele.
CASTRES OLYMPIQUE: Brice Dulin; Remi Grosso, Seremaia Bai, Remi Lamerat, Max Evans; Rémi Talès (capt), Cedric Garcia; Yannick Forestier, Marc-Antoine Rallier, Karena Wihongi, Richie Gray, Christophe Samson, Mathieu Babillot, Ibrahim Diarra, Piula Faasalele.
Replacements: Brice Mach, Mihaita Lazar, Anton Peikrishvili, Benjamin Desroche, Yannick Caballero, Julien Tomas, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Marcel Garvey.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Kevin McLaughlin, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack O’Connell, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Sean Bricknell, Jonathan Mason (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Castres Olympique to win: 7/4; Draw: 22/1; Leinster to win: 4/9
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt O’Connor (Leinster) – “You’ve got to win (these) two (final) games. There is no point worrying about anything beyond Castres. You go to Castres, you win, you’re in control of your own destiny and that is all we’re focused on.
“Castres are a good side. They’re big, they’re physical and they lose very rarely at home. We’ve got to make sure that we are peaking on Sunday. You get the result on Sunday, it changes it slightly, doesn’t it?
“At home they play a little bit more, that is as reflective in their selection, as anything. That is usually a pretty good indicator of them. Ospreys, Northampton – Clermont got a draw there – (have shown) there’s opportunities there if you’re good enough.
“That is the challenge for us – making sure that you don’t give them leg-ups with our inaccuracy and they’re very, very good at spotting a weakness.
“They aren’t looking to score five or six tries. They’re looking to score one or two and kick their goals and make it really difficult for the opposition.
“The guys have been to France a lot. There is a lot of provincial and Test level playing in France. You’ve got to get your head around that. You’ve got to understand what you have to deliver on across the course of the contest.
“A lot of those things are really hard physical things. But, if you can match them there, you’re in with a chance.”
Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster) – “I like playing in France. The crowd are always an interesting add-on to games over there.
“They pretty much support whoever is winning. You go over there, you put it up to the home team, and you can sometimes turn the crowd back on the home team.
“It gives you a little taste into what the Top 14 is like, and it’s big and physical. Every time I have played a French team, you walk away and you know you have been in a dog fight really.
“There is pretty much three-quarters of the Castres squad involved who were playing in the Top 14 final last year. They are incredibly talented.
“They probably break the mould in a slight way with the (rest of the) Top 14. They have that big physical pack but they probably play a little bit more broken field and a loose pass, things like that, is where they thrive. They score a lot off turnovers.
“I think the 10, (Rémi) Talès, and the 15, (Brice) Dulin, they compliment the way they try to approach the game. Talès is getting his look in around the French squad and that is probably reflected in the way Castres are playing.”
Current Form – Castres Olympique – (Top 14 Championship): Lost 26-23 away to Perpignan; Won 34-6 at home to Grenoble; Lost 21-20 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 38-10 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 19-9 away to Oyonnax; Won 22-15 at home to Toulon; Lost 26-9 away to Toulouse; Won 19-15 at home to Racing Métro 92; Lost 34-0 away to Brive; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-13 at home to Northampton Saints; Lost 19-7 away to Leinster; (Top 14 Championship): Won 39-0 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Drew 22-22 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Won 20-16 away to Montpellier; Won 46-16 at home to Bayonne; (Heineken Cup): Won 15-9 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 21-12 away to the Ospreys; (Top 14 Championship): Won 37-13 at home to Perpignan; Lost 20-16 away to Grenoble; Won 15-9 at home to Bordeaux-Begles
Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-19 away to the Scarlets; Drew 29-29 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 12-6 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 19-15 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-9 away to the Ospreys; Won 19-7 at home to Castres Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 16-13 at home to Connacht; Won 23-19 away to Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 21-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 36-19 at home to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 40-7 away to Northampton Saints; Lost 18-9 at home to Northampton Saints; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 11-6 away to Edinburgh; Won 19-6 at home to Ulster; Won 16-8 away to Connacht
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Castres Olympique – Points: Rory Kockott 45; Tries: Romain Martial, Rory Kockott 1 each; Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 28; Tries: Luke Fitzgerald 3
Previous European Meetings: 3
Saturday, October 19, 2013 – Pool 1 – Leinster 19 Castres Olympique 7, the RDS
Friday, December 13, 2008 – Pool 2 – Castres Olympique 18 Leinster 15, Stade Pierre Antoine
Saturday, December 6, 2008 – Pool 2 – Leinster 33 Castres Olympique 3, the RDS
Match Facts & Figures –
– All three previous meetings between these sides have been won by the home team (Leinster W2)
– Leinster have a tackling success rate of 91% this season, a joint-high in the tournament along with Gloucester
– Castres have the worst ball retention rate at the ruck this season (90%)
– Leinster have lost just one of their last four away games in France (W2 D1)
Heineken Cup Records:
Castres Olympique –
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D
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