Only three points separated these teams when they clashed in Dublin in mid-October, so Leinster have quite a task on their hands if they are to get a result at Sandy Park which sees them through to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 5: Saturday, January 19
EXETER CHIEFS (3rd) v LEINSTER (2nd), Sandy Park, 6pm (live Sky Sports 3/HD3/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team team to play Exeter Chiefs in Saturday’s decisive Heineken Cup round 6 showdown at Sandy Park has been named.
Richardt Strauss will start in the front row after missing the last month with an ankle injury and, in all, the Ireland hooker is one of three changes to the pack that started last weekend’s round 5 victory over the Scarlets.
Sean O’Brien has recovered from illness to join fellow returnee Kevin McLaughlin and Ireland’s confirmed Six Nations captain Jamie Heaslip in the back row.
Strauss, meanwhile, will scrum down alongside fellow Ireland internationals Cian Healy and Mike Ross, with the latter set to make his 80th appearance for the province.
Leo Cullen leads the experienced line-up which also sees Brian O’Driscoll, a second half replacement against the Scarlets, resume his centre partnership with Gordon D’Arcy.
O’Driscoll, who is in line to make his 82nd Heineken Cup appearance, is one of two changes to the back-line with Eoin Reddan selected to partner Jonathan Sexton at half-back.
Rob Kearney continues in a talented back-three combination alongside Luke Fitzgerald, the man-of-the-match last time out, and Isa Nacewa.
With a nod to Exeter’s efforts in their 9-6 first round defeat at the RDS, flanker O’Brien said: “Well, we can take it that they’re a very physical bunch of lads. Their work-rate is outstanding and I think that that’s what they pride themselves on. They’re a very fit team, they have very strong set pieces.
“They are just very good and they’re very dangerous. We know all that about them now and we know how they can play when they have the ball.
“They have a very agile back row with all three of them very smart. So, we’re going to have to keep an eye on them.
“They caused us a bit of hassle that (first) day in the ruck and in their counter-rucking. Causing a nuisance really, so we have to tighten up that area and, hopefully, it won’t be a problem.”
Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter has made two changes in his backs division where injuries rule out both Phil Dollman and Gonzalo Camacho.
Into the side come Sireli Naqelevuki and former Ulster centre/winger Ian Whitten. In the forwards, Australian international Dean Mumm has been given the nod over James Hanks in the second row.
On the bench, there are recalls also for flanker Ben White and utility back Nic Sestaret.
Explaining how fired up his side are to finish their first Heineken Cup campaign with a flourish, Baxter said: “Is there a better game to look forward too than this one? Not only are we facing the current holders of the Heineken Cup, but it will be a sell-out crowd at Sandy Park and a game with something riding on it.
“In some ways it’s a great reward for what we did last season and it’s also a great reward for our supporters, some of whom have been to some dire grounds over the years and seen us play some dire rugby.
“That said, as a club, a management group and for the players, we have to say this is the type of challenge we want every week – not just every now and then in cup competitions.
“Moving forward this kind of environment and challenge has to be the driver for us to get even better in everything we do.”
EXETER CHIEFS: Luke Arscott; Ian Whitten, Sireli Naqelevuki, Jason Shoemark, Matt Jess; Gareth Steenson, Kevin Barrett; Ben Moon, Neil Clark, Hoani Tui, Tom Hayes (capt), Dean Mumm, Tom Johnson, James Scaysbrook, Richard Baxter.
Replacements: Jack Yeandle, Carl Rimmer, Craig Mitchell, James Hanks, Ben White, Will Chudley, Ignacio Mieres, Nic Sestaret.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Michael Bent, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos, Eric Soulan (both France)
Television Match Official: Bernard Dal Maso (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Exeter Chiefs to win: 4/1; Draw: 25/1; Leinster to win: 1/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “This is going to be a very, very tough ask for us but it’s an exciting challenge as well. After those Clermont games we were literally clinging on with a chance of staying in the tournament.
“That chance maybe has improved slightly but there’s so many factors at play this weekend. It’s a knock-out game I suppose, to put it like that. It’s not a final though, no. There’s no trophy at the end of it.
“There is a lot of admiration across England for what Exeter have done. When they got into the Premiership it was quite late and they didn’t get a chance to sign that many players at the time.
“But (their head coach) Rob Baxter is a very clever guy. He has done a pretty amazing job with the team and they are just getting better and better all the time.
“I certainly have the utmost respect for what they have done and we are under no illusions as to how tough it is going to be. They had their opportunities at the RDS as well. We were very lucky to come away with the win that day.”
Tom Hayes (Exeter Chiefs) – “As an Irishman, there is maybe a bit of added spice to the fixture. But it’s about the club and the squad really, and we want to try and get as much out of the game as we possibly can.
“It is a going to be a huge occasion for us. Leinster have won the Heineken Cup in each of the last two seasons and they are not in as strong a position in the group as I think they would have liked to have been.
“They’ve obviously got a lot of quality about them, so they aren’t going to come to Sandy Park just to make up numbers.
“They’re going to be scrapping for what they can and it’s up to us to stand up to that and try to end our European season on a high.
“In Clermont (last week) we came up against a team who are probably favourites to win the competition, and who have just exposed us to a higher level right across the board – their kicking game, how the forwards pick and drive, their momentum building, taking the chances, their offloading and their work in contact.”
Current Form – Exeter Chiefs – (Aviva Premiership): Won 43-6 at home to Sale Sharks; Lost 24-21 away to Northampton Saints; Lost 25-24 away to London Welsh; Won 14-12 at home to Saracens; Lost 30-8 away to Leicester Tigers; Won 42-28 at home to Harlequins; (Heineken Cup): Lost 9-6 away to Leinster; Lost 46-12 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 23-15 away to Bath; Won 33-9 at home to Worcester Warriors; (LV= Cup): Won 42-15 away to London Welsh; Won 23-13 at home to the Ospreys; (Aviva Premiership): Won 27-23 away to London Irish; Won 30-23 at home to London Wasps; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-16 away to the Scarlets; Won 30-20 at home to the Scarlets; (Aviva Premiership): Lost 18-16 away to Gloucester; Drew 12-12 at home to Bath; Lost 30-19 at home to Northampton Saints; (Heineken Cup): Lost 46-3 away to Clermont Auvergne
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
Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Exeter Chiefs – Points: Gareth Steenson 53; Tries: Haydn Thomas, Ian Whitten, Simon Alcott, James Scaysbrook 1 each; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 53; Tries: Shane Jennings 2
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 13, 2012 – Pool 5 – Leinster 9 Exeter Chiefs 6, the RDS
Match Facts And Figures –
– Exeter Chiefs have won six European matches and lost only two at Sandy Park
– Leinster have not been defeated in a round 6 encounter since they visited Leicester Tigers during the 2007/08 season
– The only Heineken Cup holders to have failed to make it out of the pools since 2000 are London Wasps, who faltered twice in 2004/05 and 2007/08
– The only time that Leinster have not made it to the last-eight since 2003/04 was during the 2007/08 campaign
– Leinster have won their last seven contests against English opponents since drawing 11-11 with London Irish at Twickenham in round 6 in 2010
Heineken Cup Records:
Exeter Chiefs –
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