A fourth successive pool win would put Leinster in a very strong position to progress to the Heineken Cup’s quarter-finals, but Northampton Saints pitch up in Dublin determined to right the wrongs of last weekend’s one-sided encounter.
HEINEKEN CUP POOL 1: Saturday, December 14
LEINSTER (1st) v NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (3rd), Aviva Stadium, 6pm (live Sky Sports 2 HD/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Northampton Saints in Saturday evening’s Heineken Cup round 4 encounter at the Aviva Stadium has been named.
Head coach Matt O’Connor has selected an unchanged line-up from the one that started last weekend’s victory in Franklin’s Gardens. Jamie Heaslip leads an all-Ireland team for the return visit of Northampton.
Mike McCarthy continues his second row partnership with Devin Toner and the Moynalvey man is set to make his 31st Heineken Cup appearance.
The second half try scored by Brian O’Driscoll, who picked up the man-of-the-match award in round 3, took him to 33 tries on the all-time Heineken Cup top try scorers list and is now just two behind Toulouse’s Vincent Clerc.
O’Driscoll continues his centre partnership with Gordon D’Arcy, with Luke Fitzgerald – whose hat-trick of tries last weekend pushed him to the top of this year’s tournament tally – continuing in the back-three alongside Dundalk duo Dave and Rob Kearney.
Eoin Reddan partners Ian Madigan, who makes his 90th Leinster appearance, at half back. Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings and Zane Kirchner are named on an experienced looking bench.
Tickets sales for Saturday’s game have now passed the 45,000 mark – tickets are on sale online here and from the Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook), Spar (Donnybrook), Active Sports (Blackrock) as well as Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Meanwhile, the Northampton Saints team that heads to Dublin this weekend shows three changes from the side that started against the three-time Heineken Cup champions last weekend.
Northampton will play at the Aviva Stadium for the first time, with Salesi Ma’afu, Christian Day and Calum Clark all returning to the starting line-up.
Tighthead prop Ma’afu has recovered from the foot injury which kept him out of the round 3 fixture, while Day and Clark come in for Sam Dickinson and Phil Dowson who both drop to the bench.
They will be joined by Samoan international scrum half Kahn Fotuali’i, who comes into the matchday squad in place of Ryan Glynn.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; David Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Michael Bent, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, John Cooney, Jimmy Gopperth, Zane Kirchner.
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS: Ken Pisi; Jamie Elliott, Dom Waldouck, Luther Burrell, George North; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley (capt), Salesi Ma’afu, Courtney Lawes, Christian Day, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, Samu Manoa.
Replacements: Mike Haywood, Ethan Waller, Tom Mercey, Sam Dickinson, Phil Dowson, Kahn Fotuali’i, Glenn Dickson, Tom Collins.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: Sébastien Clouté, Thomas Charabas (both France)
Television Match Official: Eric Gauzins (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/7; Draw: 25/1; Northampton Saints to win: 5/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Mike Ross (Leinster) – “You’d be conscious (of the praise in the media for last weekend’s performance), it’s a bit of background noise I suppose. It’s hard not to (pay attention) if you pick up a newspaper or even read anything around.
“At the same time, we’d know we weren’t perfect ourselves, we’d be our own worst critics. We dissected our performance on Monday and Tuesday and we know there are elements we can improve on. We know this weekend is probably not going to happen the same way again.
“We’re conscious that it happened last year (with Ulster losing to Northampton after beating them heavily) and I think if you had told us before the game last week what the scoreline would have been, we wouldn’t have believed you.
“I don’t think any of us anticipated that coming and they’re a pretty proud team so I’m sure they’ll be firing on all cylinders.
“You kind of have to be careful, you have to look after your own performance first. We’re certainly expecting a tough battle up front, that much hasn’t changed. The hits were pretty hard still last weekend, but we executed when we got our chances and that was the difference.
“We’re looking forward to playing in the Aviva again, it’s a great stadium to play in. You know, after playing there in the November internationals, especially the New Zealand game, the noise is incredible.
“Generally, when Leinster play there we have a fairly good record. I think we’ve only lost once there and that was against Clermont last year. It’s something we don’t want to repeat and revisit again.”
Lee Dickson (Northampton Saints) – “You can’t afford to give a quality side like Leinster that kind of start. We’ve looked back over the video, particularly our start to the game and there are obviously a number of areas where we can improve a lot.
“These Heineken Cup weekends are good though because you get to have another crack (at Leinster) straight away. You’re never going to have a perfect season and we’ve already had plenty of setbacks this year – last Saturday being one of them.
“What’s important is how you bounce back and while the mood has been a bit different this week, the boys have all trained really well – there’s a bit of an edge – and we’re determined to give a better account of ourselves.
“Leinster are a great side and we saw that last week, but we’ve also got a lot of top players and we’ll be going over there to restore a bit of pride and we’re confident we can do that.
“All the talk has rightly been about Leinster and we’ll go to Dublin as massive underdogs. No one is giving us a chance but what we’ve got to do is stay tight as a squad and really step up.
“We’ve not become a bad team over night and a good showing this weekend will also be important as we move back into a group of crucial Premiership games.”
Current Form – 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
Northampton Saints – (Aviva Premiership): Won 38-11 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Won 13-6 away to Harlequins; Lost 26-24 away to Gloucester; Won 33-14 at home to Sale Sharks; Drew 19-19 away to Leicester Tigers; (Heineken Cup): Lost 19-13 away to Castres Olympique; Won 27-16 at home to the Ospreys; (Aviva Premiership): Won 41-20 at home to Saracens; Won 19-14 away to London Irish; (LV= Cup): Won 33-6 at home to Gloucester; Won 39-18 away to London Irish; (Aviva Premiership): Won 18-0 at home to Newcastle Falcons; Won 33-10 away to Worcester Warriors; (Heineken Cup): Lost 40-7 at home to Leinster
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 28; Tries: Luke Fitzgerald 3; Northampton Saints – Points: Stephen Myler 22; Tries: Dylan Hartley, Samu Manoa, Christian Day, Ben Foden, Lee Dickson 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 4
Saturday, December 7, 2013 – Pool 1 – Northampton Saints 7 Leinster 40, Franklin’s Gardens
Saturday, May 21, 2011 – Final – Leinster 33 Northampton Saints 22, Millennium Stadium
Friday, October 27, 2000 – Pool 1 – Leinster 40 Northampton Saints 31, Donnybrook
Saturday, October 21, 2000 – Pool 1 – Northampton Saints 8 Leinster 14, Franklin’s Gardens
Heineken Cup Records:
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
Northampton Saints –
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2009/10: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1