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Heineken Cup Preview: Saracens v Leinster

Heineken Cup Preview: Saracens v Leinster

Leinster sent a warning shot across Heineken Cup Pool 2 last weekend, following an impressive bonus point victory over Racing Metro 92. Can they take that form on the road and beat Saracens at Wembley Stadium, without the injured Brian O’Driscoll?

HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 2: Saturday, October 16

SARACENS (3rd) v LEINSTER (1st), Wembley Stadium, 5.45pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD 1)

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Team News: The Leinster team to face Saracens in Saturday’s historic Heineken Cup Pool 2 clash at Wembley Stadium.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has made two changes in personnel – one of them enforced – to the team that started last weekend’s bonus point victory over Racing Metro 92.

Brian O’Driscoll has failed to recover from the hamstring injury he picked up during the second half of that game, so Shane Horgan returns to the right wing with Luke Fitzgerald partnering Gordon D’Arcy in the centre.

Horgan, who lies in fourth place in the Heineken Cup’s all-time try-scoring list (26 tries), will make his 80th tournament appearance on Saturday.

Isa Nacewa also switches to the left wing in a back-line which features six Ireland internationals, including half-backs Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan.

South African prop Heinke van der Merwe makes way for Cian Healy in the only change to the starting pack. Healy slots into the front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross.

Number 8 Jamie Heaslip will lead the team in what is Leinster’s 99th game in European competition.

In a timely boost for the province, regular captain Leo Cullen has been included in the matchday squad for the first time this season after being named amongst the replacements.

Cullen has not played since dislocating his shoulder in a Magners League game against Edinburgh last May.

The Wicklow man is delighted to be making his return to rugby, particularly as it comes in the first Heineken Cup match to take place at Wembley Stadium.

“It’s great for me. I’ve been to the old Wembley in 1996 for the Challenge Cup final and I was at the Ireland-Wales match a few years later, when I was in the Ireland Under-21s,” he said.

“It has something special about it – it dates back to growing up as a kid. The FA Cup build-up on a Saturday, that excitement. It was before Sky so it was different.

“You didn’t have as much Premiership hype. I’m very fortunate to get a run-out there at some stage this weekend.”

He added: “With the pool being so tight, Saracens need to win this week and they’ll be under a certain amount of pressure to perform. This pool is so difficult, you need to get what you can from every game.

“We got the most we could last week (against Racing) and whatever way the game goes on Saturday, we have to ensure we get as much out of it as possible.

“If it’s a real dogfight, we’ll take a one-point win. If we’re struggling, we’ll take what we can.”

Meanwhile, Saracens boss Brendan Venter has made alterations to his starting pack for this vital clash.

Having lost 25-10 away to Clermont Auvergne last Saturday, the Waterford-based side need to pick up the points against Leinster.

Two South African players – lock Mouritz Botha and number 8 Ernst Joubert – have been pencilled in to face Joe Schmidt’s men, with Hugh Vyvyan and Kelly Brown missing out. Scotland international Brown could feature off the bench.

Sarries put in a huge effort up front against Clermont Auvergne, and were left ruing a series of missed scoring opportunities, both place-kicks and tries.

This weekend, the Vicarage Road residents will make history when they host the first ever Heineken Cup match to take place at the world-renowned Wembley Stadium.

Their record at Wembley reads: played four, won four. They beat Northampton Saints, South Africa, Worcester Warriors and Harlequins at the home of English football last season.

SARACENS: Alex Goode; David Strettle, Adam Powell, Brad Barritt, Chris Wyles; Derick Hougaard, Richard Wigglesworth; Deon Carstens, Schalk Brits, Carlos Nieto, Steve Borthwick (capt), Mouritz Botha, Jacques Burger, Andy Saull, Ernst Joubert.

Replacements: Jamie George, Matt Parr, Richard Skuse, Hayden Smith, Kelly Brown, Neil de Kock, Kameli Ratuvou, Noah Cato.

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Luke Fitzgerald, Gordon D’Arcy, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Nathan Hines, Devin Toner, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Heinke van der Merwe, Simon Shawe, Leo Cullen, Dominic Ryan, Isaac Boss, Fergus McFadden, Eoin O’Malley.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)
Assistant Referees: Cédric Marchat, Jean-Luc Rebollal (both France)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Saracens to win: 8/13; Draw: 22/1; Leinster to win: 5/4

Pre-Match Quotes: Mike Ross (Leinster) – “Sarries are a fairly physical side. Anytime I’ve watched them, it’s clear that they match their physicality with a mobile running game.

“Deon Carstens and Carlos Nieto are two strong props, and in Schalk Brits they have a very good hooker who plays like a centre and will ask questions of our defence.

“With a strong South African influence in their set-up, they play like a lot of the South African (Super 15) sides, and we’re expecting a hard-running battle against a side who can play a bit as well.

“Wembley is a fantastic stadium. I’ve been there a couple of times and it’s just massive. I haven’t played there before, so it’ll be an exciting test for the team.

“Growing up I wasn’t that big a football fan, so it was never a case for me dreaming of scoring the winning goal there or anything.

“But the resonance and the history of the stadium…that isn’t lost on me and it’s an exciting departure for the Heineken Cup and for our supporters. I’m sure will thrive going over there.

“During my time over in England (with Harlequins), games against Saracens were always physical battles and invariably they were won and lost up front.

“If you win the collisions up front (then) that’s half the battle, but they have definitely strengthened their squad since I returned to Ireland and they’re a really consistent team with pace and power.”

Brendan Venter (Saracens) – “If we don’t finish our chances against Leinster, we won’t beat them. They are too classy an outfit.

“We created a lot against Clermont Auvergne – so many try-scoring opportunities – but with a lot of them it was us that actually made the error.

“We need to finish on Saturday, we need to take our points. Give Leinster a half chance, and they score.

“I feel comfortable going to Wembley and the guys feel the same. Last year we didn’t feel it was an advantage, we felt it was a wonderful privilege.

“This season it will be much more like a home game. But it doesn’t matter where our guys play, we pride ourselves on getting up for any match.”

Current Form – 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

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

Previous European Meetings: 0

Heineken Cup Records:

Saracens –
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

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