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Heineken Cup Preview: Leinster v Scarlets

Heineken Cup Preview: Leinster v Scarlets

Leinster know their defence of the Heineken Cup rests on the result of Saturday’s round 5 tussle with the Scarlets. A bonus point win is an absolute must for Joe Schmidt’s men as they look to keep one hand on European rugby’s most prized piece of silverware.

HEINEKEN CUP POOL 5: Saturday, January 12

LEINSTER (2nd) v SCARLETS (4th), the RDS, 6pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)

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Team News: The Leinster team to face the Scarlets in Saturday evening’s sold-out Heineken Cup Pool 5 fixture at the RDS has been named.

Leo Cullen, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Wednesday, leads the province and is named in a starting line-up which includes 14 Ireland internationals for the visit of the Welsh side.

Wicklow man Cullen partners Devin Toner in the second row with Sean O’Brien set to make his 30th European appearance in a back row that also features Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip.

Kevin McLaughlin misses the game with a shoulder knock but is expected to be available for the round 6 clash away to Exeter Chiefs.

The front row is unchanged from the side which started last weekend’s bonus point victory over Edinburgh, so Cian Healy will make his 108th appearance for his home province alongside Sean Cronin and Mike Ross.

In the back-line, Isaac Boss partners Jonathan Sexton at half back with Gordon D’Arcy continuing in the centre alongside the returning Fergus McFadden who was rested last weekend.

Isa Nacewa is recalled to an experienced back-three which also features the fit-again Luke Fitzgerald and last season’s European Player of the Year Rob Kearney.

Brian O’Driscoll, who made his comeback from injury in Edinburgh, is listed among the replacements alongside fellow Ireland internationals Michael Bent, Eoin Reddan and Rhys Ruddock.

Meanwhile, Scarlets boss Simon Easterby has made six changes, including a positional switch, to the team that shipped 47 points against Ulster last time out.

With George North absent due to a back/neck injury, Andy Fenby will start on the right wing with Liam Williams taking up the full-back spot in place of Dan Newton.

Jonathan Davies is listed among the replacements as Scott Williams resumes in the centre alongside Gareth Maule, who scored their only try when the Llanelli outfit hosted Leinster in October.

In the forwards, Johnathan Edwards makes way in the back row for Kieran Murphy who comes in at number 8 with captain Rob McCusker stationed on the blindside this time.

Ken Owens replaces Emyr Phillips at hooker and George Earle joins Richard Kelly in the second row, with Sione Timani dropping to the bench.

Commenting on this weekend’s opposition, Easterby said: “Leinster will have some key players coming back from injury and have plenty of quality to draw in their team which will add to their performance.

“While they will be disappointed with the Clermont loss we know there’s a lot riding on this game for them – but we feel exactly the same.

“Parity up front will be key and we have to be better at taking our opportunities, we create plenty but our accuracy and execution has been lacking in the last six games.

“We need to put that right this weekend built on the knowledge we have comfortably matched the top sides this season for periods of the game.”

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Heinke van der Merwe, Michael Bent, Tom Denton, Rhys Ruddock, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Brian O’Driscoll.

SCARLETS: Liam Williams; Andy Fenby, Gareth Maule, Scott Williams, Kristian Phillips; Aled Thomas, Tavis Knoyle; Phil John, Ken Owens, Jacobie Adriaanse, George Earle, Richard Kelly, Rob McCusker (capt), Josh Turnbull, Kieran Murphy.

Replacements: Matthew Rees, Rhodri Jones, Samson Lee, Johan Snyman, Sione Timani, Gareth Davies, Jonathan Davies, Adam Warren.

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant Referees: Sebastien Clouté, Alexandre Ruiz (both France)
Television Match Official: Jean-Claude Levrier (France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/80; Draw: 50/1; Scarlets to win: 16/1

Pre-Match Quotes: Sean Cronin (Leinster) – “It’s not ideal ever to be chasing a situation like we are, but we know our fate is in our own hands and we have to put in the performance to try and get as much as we can out of the game.

“But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. The Scarlets are a top quality side. You can see by their form in the RaboDirect PRO12, they have incredibly good backs and are dangerous all over the place so we’re just focused on the win first and foremost.

“They are too dangerous a side to be talking tries and getting five points. It’s about getting the win, first and foremost. They can score from anywhere and make line breaks. They have very good backs like Jonathan Davies and George North.

“These guys are world class so it’s about getting momentum in the game nice and early and trying to stamp our authority on it and then we’ll see what happens from there.”

Simon Easterby (Scarlets) – “We’re entering into two Heineken games – one against the reigning champions, then next week against one of the top two or three sides in the competition. So, in three games we’ve played against some of the very best in Europe.

“These games show us where we are as a group, equally they’re important in terms of making a mark to get us back on track for our season ahead.

“As coaches and players we respect this tournament, our supporters and what our region has achieved so we’ll only ever being going out in the next couple of weeks to try and win two games – that will never change.

“We’ve been struggling with injuries after an intense last six weeks and we’ve picked 10 backs for the matchday squad from 11 that are currently available in our list of 18 backs for Europe. We also have only three out-and-out back rowers to choose from this weekend.

“That said, the boys have been working very hard this week. There’s no lack of commitment or effort or will to go out this weekend to Ireland and cause a shock.”

Current Form – 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

Scarlets – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 45-20 at home to Leinster; Won 18-13 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 24-11 away to Connacht; Lost 23-16 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 22-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 24-13 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Lost 49-16 away to Clermont Auvergne; Lost 20-13 at home to Leinster; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 29-28 away to Edinburgh; Won 22-13 at home to Zebre; (LV= Cup): Lost 34-18 away to Worcester Warriors; Won 22-16 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 13-6 away to Munster; Lost 19-12 at home to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 22-16 at home to Exeter Chiefs; Lost 30-20 away to Exeter Chiefs; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 9-6 away to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 32-3 away to the Ospreys; Lost 47-17 away to Ulster

Top Scorers – 2012/13 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 47; Tries: Isa Nacewa, Shane Jennings, Fergus McFadden 1 each; Scarlets – Points: Rhys Priestland 25; Tries: Jonathan Davies, Gareth Maule, Ken Owens, Scott Williams 1 each

Previous European Meetings: 4

Friday, November 6, 1998 – Pool A – Leinster 27 Scarlets 34, Donnybrook
Saturday, December 12, 2009 – Pool 6 – Scarlets 7 Leinster 32, Parc y Scarlets
Saturday, December 19, 2009 – Pool 6 – Leinster 39 Scarlets 7, the RDS
Saturday, October 20, 2012 – Pool 5 – Scarlets 13 Leinster 20, Parc y Scarlets

Match Facts And Figures –

– Leinster have triumphed in their last three Heineken Cup meetings with the Scarlets, although the Welsh region did grab a losing bonus point in their match earlier this season

– Leinster have turned over the least amount of ball (10 conceded per game) this season and have retained possession at a competition high 97% of rucks and mauls

– Leinster’s Jamie Heaslip has completed the most tackles without missing any, boasting a 100% success rate by making 50 in four appearances

– Jonathan Sexton, Leinster’s top points scorer in this tournament, could reach 400 for the province if he scores 13 points this weekend

– The Welsh side are on a run of four consecutive defeats in this competition and have seven losses in their last eight

Heineken Cup Records:

Leinster –
2011/12: Champions
2010/11: Champions
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

Scarlets –
2011/12: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2008/09: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2006/07: Reached the semi-finals
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2003/04: Reached the quarter-finals
2002/03: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the quarter-final play-off
1996/97: Reached the quarter-finals