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Heineken Cup Preview: Leinster v Clermont Auvergne

Heineken Cup Preview: Leinster v Clermont Auvergne

Leinster are set to create a new record Heineken Cup pool attendance for an Irish province as they play host to reigning French champions Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium. Securing the match points, on the back of a hard-earned losing bonus point in France, would be a huge boost for Joe Schmidt’s men.

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 2: Saturday, December 18

LEINSTER (1st) v CLERMONT AUVERGNE (3rd), Aviva Stadium, 5.45pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)

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Team News: The Leinster team to face Clermont Auvergne in Saturday’s Heineken Cup Pool 2 showdown at the Aviva Stadium has been named. Head coach Joe Schmidt has made three changes in personnel for the rematch with his former club, Clermont Auvergne.

Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip take their places in the starting line-up for the round 4 encounter, although the Ireland number 8 will face a late fitness test following the warm-up.

Heaslip was replaced just after half-time in last Sunday’s game at Stade Marcel Michelin, having damaged his left ankle. He has had it in protective casing for most of the week.

O’Driscoll, who has recovered from a jaw injury, partners Gordon D’Arcy at centre. He replaces Eoin O’Malley whose impressive Heineken Cup debut last weekend was marred by a fractured rib.

The back-three of Shane Horgan, Fergus McFadden and Isa Nacewa is unchanged from the away leg.

Eoin Reddan has been preferred to Isaac Boss at scrum half, slotting in alongside Jonathan Sexton who kicked eight points in the 20-13 defeat to Clermont Auvergne.

Cian Healy starts in the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross, with Heinke van der Merwe the player to make way.

Leo Cullen will skipper the side from the second row, with Sean O’Brien, one of Leinster’s best performers last time out, donning the number 6 jersey once again.

O’Brien will move to number 8 and Dominic Ryan will be promoted from the replacements bench if Heaslip does not pull through.

Saturday’s game will be a record pool attendance for an Irish province with over 43,000 tickets now sold.

Schmidt said: “A decision will be made on Jamie (Heaslip) in the warm-up. He is being given at least another 30 hours to see if we can get the swelling down and get enough movement in the ankle that he can play. I am quietly confident that he will make it.

“For good reason we do not want to put Jamie at risk. We got him through to half-time last week but he was struggling and we do not want him going on to the field struggling. We can put our faith in the young guys, Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock.

“Clermont haven’t made too many (changes), but Julien Pierre coming in for Loic Jacquet is no surprise.

“Loic is a fantastic athlete but Julien probably adds a bit more steel. He is more of a soldier and I have no doubt that they are going to battle us in the trenches.”

Meanwhile, Clermont Auvergne boss Vern Cotter has made four changes in personnel for the trip to Dublin.

Georgian international Davit Zirakashvili has been drafted into the front row for Martin Scelzo, while there is a second change in the pack with Julien Pierre preferred to Loic Jacquet in the second row.

There is a switch at full-back where Benoît Baby, who scored a try at the old Lansdowne Road five years ago, comes in for Anthony Floch who is otherwise engaged (his wife is expecting a baby).

Samoan international and former Connacht centre Gavin Williams gets the nod at inside centre, taking over from Italy’s Gonzalo Canale.

There is an injury doubt hanging over flanker Alexandre Lapandry (ribs). If he fails a late fitness test, Alexandre Audebert will be brought into the starting line-up. There are seven full internationals on the visitors’ bench, with young prop Clément Ric the odd man out.

LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Fergus McFadden; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip/Dominic Ryan.

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Heinke van der Merwe, Clint Newland, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan/Rhys Ruddock, Isaac Boss, Shaun Berne, David Kearney.

CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Benoît Baby; Napolioni Nalaga, Aurélien Rougerie (capt), Gavin Williams, Julien Malzieu; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Ti’i Paulo, Davit Zirakashvili, Julien Pierre, Thibaut Privat, Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry, Sione Lauaki.

Replacements: Mario Ledesma, Lionel Faure, Clément Ric, Loic Jacquet, Elvis Vermeulen, Alexandre Audebert, Kevin Senio, Tasesa Lavea,

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Tim Hayes, Hugh Watkins (both Wales)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/2; Draw: 20/1; Clermont Auvergne to win: 13/8

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Pre-Match Quotes: Shane Jennings (Leinster) – “Of course, we respect Clermont. They have a quality side. They came over here last season (for the Heineken Cup quarter-final) and played very well. If we were being honest about it, we probably didn’t deserve to win.

“We gave them the respect they deserved, that was all. We will do the same again this weekend.

“We certainly haven’t read into it or bought into it. If you show teams too much respect you are obviously beaten before you go there, so you have to get the balance right.

“We are just preparing as well as we can, doing our homework on those guys.

“I’m sure they will have a bit of a chip on their shoulder about it (the scrum) this week. They do back themselves, like the majority of French packs. They rate themselves in the scrum and they do have a good scrum.

“We realise we are certainly not the world’s best scrum, but we are not the world’s worst and we have done a bit of work on it this week. The eight of us have to work very hard again if we are to match them.

“It (my missed try-scoring opportunity) was a pick and go close to the line. I felt Mike Ross latching on to me. I got close and kind of fell.

“I thought there was a bit of pressure, but as soon as I didn’t feel there was any pressure, I regained my balance and went again.

“I got on the line, but Wayne Barnes decided there was a double movement. These things happen and you move on. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a let-off for them.”

Vern Cotter (Clermont Auvergne) – “We need a little more intensity, perhaps. Leinster played a really good game (last Sunday) but I think they’ll try and lift themselves onto another level this weekend.

“The Heineken Cup is something very, very important for Leinster. So there’s that alongside the fact that a victory would probably assure them qualification. We know that if we want to get into the quarter-finals, we have to win over there.

“We’ll try to find a solution at the breakdown and get the ball away more rapidly. Things like that could have a big bearing on the match.”

Current Form – Leinster – (Magners League): Lost 22-19 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-23 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 29-13 away to Benetton Treviso; Lost 32-24 away to Edinburgh; Won 13-9 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 38-22 at home to Racing Metro 92; Won 25-23 away to Saracens; (Magners League): Won 18-6 away to Connacht; Won 19-18 at home to Edinburgh; Won 27-6 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 19-15 away to the Ospreys; Drew 17-17 away to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Lost 20-13 away to Clermont Auvergne

Clermont Auvergne (Top 14 Championship): Lost 21-13 away to Perpignan; Won 25-12 away to Bourgoin; Won 33-9 at home to Brive; Lost 28-17 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 27-10 at home to Montpellier; Lost 18-16 away to Bayonne; Lost 28-16 away to Toulon; Won 24-6 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 45-19 at home to Agen; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-10 at home to Saracens; Lost 16-9 away to Racing Metro 92; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 16-13 away to Biarritz Olympique; Won 27-3 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 22-14 away to La Rochelle; Won 32-25 at home to Toulouse; (Heineken Cup): Won 20-13 at home to Leinster

Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 33; Tries: Rob Kearney, Richardt Strauss, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Fergus McFadden, Jonathan Sexton, Shane Horgan 1 each; Clermont Auvergne – Points: Mogan Parra 20; Tries: Julien Malzieu 2

Previous European Meetings: 4

Sunday, December 12, 2010 – Pool 2 – Clermont Auvergne 20 Leinster 13, Stade Marcel Michelin
Friday, April 9, 2010 – Quarter-final – Leinster 29 Clermont Auvergne 28, the RDS
Friday, December 13, 2002 – Pool 4 – Leinster 12 Montferrand 9, Donnybrook
Saturday, December 7, 2002 – Pool 4 – Montferrand 20 Leinster 23, Stade Marcel Michelin

Heineken Cup Records:

Leinster –
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

Clermont Auvergne –
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
1999/00: Reached the quarter-finals