Leinster have their Heineken Cup destiny in their own hands as they look to complete the double over Saracens and inch closer to what would be their eighth quarter-final appearance in 10 years.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 2: Saturday, January 15
LEINSTER (1st) v SARACENS (4th), the RDS, 1.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD 1)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Saracens in Saturday’s sell-out Heineken Cup Pool 2 match at the RDS has been named.
Young flanker Dominic Ryan will make his first Heineken Cup start, coming in for the injured Jamie Heaslip (ankle) in one of two personnel changes to the team that secured an impressive round 4 win over Clermont Auvergne.
The 20-year-old, who made two appearances off the bench in earlier rounds, dons the number 6 jersey, with the in-form Sean O’Brien shifting to number 8.
Leo Cullen leads the side for the visit of Saracens, partnering Scotland international Nathan Hines once again in the second row.
With Eoin Reddan linking up with Jonathan Sexton at half-back, there is a familiar look to the remainder of the back-line – but a late change has been forced on Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt.
Gordon D’Arcy pulled up in Friday’s Captain’s Run with a calf strain and after a fitness test this morning, he has been ruled out of today’s match.
His place in the starting line-up will be taken by the fit-again Luke Fitzgerald, who starts on the left wing.
Fergus McFadden, who was originally selected on the wing, moves to inside centre to partner Brian O’Driscoll. Fitzgerald’s place on the bench has gone to Eoin O’Malley.
Fitzgerald joins Leinster’s most capped player in Heineken Cup history, Shane Horgan, and Isa Nacewa in the back-three.
Ireland internationals Isaac Boss and Kevin McLaughlin, who is set for his first Heineken Cup outing of the season, have been named amongst the replacements.
Commenting on the loss of Heaslip, Joe Schmidt said: “We met on Sunday and I said to Jamie, ‘look you’re not going to be in this week.’
“After Monday’s training we gave him one more chance. It went better but, with the bone bruising, he was pretty uncomfortable on Tuesday.
“Sean’s a really different player to Jamie. He’s a bit younger and is probably a rougher diamond. But potentially, yeah, he could become world class.
“I really like Sean as a player, the players that have played with him really like what he brings to the table. He has a real robustness about him and he has a massive work ethic.
“Sean’s also underestimated in the air. He’s a very good aerial player and he really demonstrated that against Racing Metro.
“He’s quite versatile. He can play anywhere in the back row. And he makes good bread too!”
Meanwhile, for this round 5 clash with the 2009 tournament champions, Saracens have made four changes to their starting line-up from the side that beat London Irish last time out.
Ernst Joubert, Rhys Gill and Nils Mordt all come into the side for the trip to Dublin in place of Jacques Burger, Deon Carstens and Alex Goode, who are all missing with minor knocks. Hugh Vyvyan also comes into the starting team in the second row.
On the replacements bench, Jared Saunders and Gavin Henson have both been registered for European competition this week while, Neil de Kock comes back into the matchday squad following paternity leave.
Looking forward to the game, flanker Andy Saull said: “We know it’s going to be a very tough match but we know we can go there and put in a good performance.
“We’ve lost three games in the pool and all have been by the smallest of margins. We gave away soft tries against Clermont and Racing Metro and were a kick away from beating Leinster at Wembley, so there hasn’t been a lot in it.
“Playing in Dublin in front of a full house is going to be a great experience, but I’ve no doubt that we can put in a good performance to set up an exciting finish to the pool.”
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, Dominic Ryan, Shane Jennings, Sean O’Brien.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Heinke van der Merwe, Clint Newland, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald.
SARACENS: Nils Mordt; David Strettle, Michael Tagicakibau, Brad Barritt, James Short; Owen Farrell, Richard Wigglesworth; Rhys Gill, Schalk Brits, Carlos Nieto, Steve Borthwick (capt), Hugh Vyvyan, Kelly Brown, Andy Saull, Ernst Joubert.
Replacements: Jamie George, Jared Saunders, Petrus du Plessis, Hayden Smith, Justin Melck, Neil de Kock, Gavin Henson, Noah Cato.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant Referees: Laurent Cardona, Patrick Pechambert (both France)
Television Match Official: Jean-Christophe Gastou (France)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/8; Draw: 22/1; Saracens to win: 5/1
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Pre-Match Quotes: Shane Jennings (Leinster) – “Saracens seemed pretty frustrated and annoyed after the game. I don’t know what he (Brendan Venter) was talking about – ‘they’re killing the game’. If you do that, you’re going to get penalised.
“We’ve found out that you just have to interpret it the way the referee is playing it on the day. We did well (at Wembley).
“Generally speaking, we were quite combative in the rucks. They’ve got a good back row who can slow up ball as well. Whatever back row they put out, they’re going to be strong.
“Joe (Schmidt) pointed out things he wanted us to improve on (from our recent games). He hit the nail on the head. If we can do that, it will go a long way to improving us at the weekend.
“None of the players were too happy over the last two weekends (against Connacht and the Ospreys). It is good, from our point of view, that we felt we hadn’t played well and still came away with a bonus point win and a win. We’ve put ourselves in a good position in the league.
“Everyone always says you learn a lot from losing. You also learn a lot when you win those tight games. And it is a nicer place to be. Against Connacht, we weren’t that good. Against the Ospreys, we weren’t good at all.
“If we play like we did against the Ospreys, we’re not going to come out the right side of it. That is not going to be good for anyone around here.
“I think people do naturally lift their intensity, lift their sharpness in training and concentration when it comes into a Heineken Cup week.
“First, we’ve got to play against a very good Saracens team. We’re in for a massive, massive test.”
Steve Borthwick (Saracens) – “We want to win as many games as we can and that is the attitude we will take to Dublin this weekend. Regardless of positions in tables, we want to win.
“Every game is important and as soon as the final whistle sounded against London Irish last weekend, our thoughts moved to Leinster, getting everything right in our preparations, learning the lessons from last week and improving on that performance.
“The club is in a very healthy position and we’re looking forward to what promises to be an exciting second half of the season.
“There’s been no difference with Brendan Venter changing his role (to technical director) – it’s all been very seamless and our new director of rugby Mark McCall is an excellent coach.
“Just looking at the players and coaches at Saracens, it’s a sign of the strength we have at this club and everyone owes a debt of thanks to the directors and those behind the scenes for that.”
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; Won 24-8 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Magners League): Won 30-13 away to Ulster; Won 30-8 at home to Connacht; Won 15-10 at home to the Ospreys
Saracens – (Aviva Premiership): Lost 33-16 away to London Irish; Won 28-13 at home to Sale Sharks; Won 26-14 away to Leeds Carnegie; Won 24-17 at home to Northampton Saints; Won 26-20 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Heineken Cup): Lost 25-10 away to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 25-23 at home to Leinster; (Aviva Premiership): Won 15-13 away to Newcastle Falcons; Lost 23-9 at home to Exeter Chiefs; (LV= Cup): Drew 22-22 at home to Northampton Saints; Lost 36-10 away to Gloucester; (Aviva Premiership): Won 17-13 away to Bath; Lost 19-13 away to Gloucester; Won 26-14 at home to Harlequins; (Heineken Cup): Lost 24-21 at home to Racing Metro 92; Won 19-14 away to Racing Metro 92; (Aviva Premiership): Won 13-6 at home to London Wasps; Lost 28-22 away to Sale Sharks; Won 12-6 at home to London Irish
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 42; Tries: Sean O’Brien Cian Healy 2 each; Saracens – Points: Owen Farrell 25; Tries: Brad Barritt 2
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 16, 2010 – Pool 2 – Saracens 23 Leinster 25, Wembley Stadium
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
2007/08: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 4