Leinster are bidding to become only the second team to win back-to-back Heineken Cup titles, but they face a considerable challenge when they meet Clermont Auvergne in Sunday’s semi-final clash in Bordeaux.
HEINEKEN CUP SEMI-FINAL: Sunday, April 29
CLERMONT AUVERGNE v LEINSTER, Stade Chaban-Delmas, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2/HD2/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Clermont Auvergne in Sunday’s Heineken Cup semi-final at the Stade Chaban-Delmas has been named.
There are five changes in personnel to the side that beat Ulster last time out in the RaboDirect PRO12.
Gordon D’Arcy returns to partner Brian O’Driscoll in the centre with Luke Fitzgerald joining Isa Nacewa, who will be making his 99th Leinster appearance, and Rob Kearney in the back-three.
Isaac Boss has been preferred to Eoin Reddan at scrum half, linking up with half-back partner Jonathan Sexton, who has scored 77 points to date in this season’s tournament.
Cian Healy, who makes his 94th Leinster career appearance and his 36th in Europe, starts in an unchanged front row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross.
Leo Cullen leads the team and partners All Black Brad Thorn again at lock, with the recalled Shane Jennings joining fellow Ireland internationals Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the back row.
O’Brien switches to blindside flanker with Heaslip coming back in at number 8 and Jennings slotting in at openside. Kevin McLaughlin drops to the bench and Dominic Ryan misses out on a squad spot.
Meanwhile, centre Aurélien Rougerie is back to captain Clermont Auvergne as they attempt reach their first ever Heineken Cup final.
Rougerie sat out last weekend’s Top 14 victory over Montpellier. Winger Julien Malzieu, the club’s top try scorer in Europe this season, also returns as one of four changes made by Vern Cotter.
Cotter, who had Joe Schmidt as his assistant before his move to Leinster, has drafted the experienced Julien Bonnaire into the back row.
He takes over from the injured Gerhard Vosloo, with Canadian international Jamie Cudmore preferred to Julien Pierre in the second row.
There will be some fascinating individual battles across the pitch on Sunday, with Lions colleagues Kearney and Lee Byrne duelling it out at full-back and ex-Leinster lock Nathan Hines will be keen to get one over on his former team-mates.
Clermont Auvergne are currently second in the Top 14 Championship behind Toulouse. They are hoping to turn the Stade Chaban-Delmas into a home away from home this weekend, with Cotter’s men boasting a superb 42-match unbeaten run at their Stade Marcel Michelin base.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Aurélien Rougerie (capt), Wesley Fofana, Julien Malzieu; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Lionel Faure, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili, Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines, Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry, Elvis Vermeulen.
Replacements: Ti’i Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Daniel Kotze, Julien Pierre, Julien Bardy, Ludovic Radoslavjevic, Regan King, Jean-Marcel Buttin.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Brad Thorn, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Dave Pearson (England)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Clermont Auvergne to win: Evens; Draw: 18/1; Leinster to win: Evens
Pre-Match Quotes: Sean O’Brien (Leinster) – “We’re all hugely excited about the challenge of playing against Clermont, a dangerous side that have big ambitions to get to the final, which is the same as ourselves.
“We have played them three times over the previous two seasons and we know what to expect from them. When you throw in, the fact that it’s a semi-final, well, you don’t need much more motivation. But we’ll approach the game like we would any other – in a positive frame of mind.
“We’re out of our comfort zone this weekend, and it’ll be a new venue for Leinster playing in Bordeaux, but at this stage of the season you just want to play in these kinds of games.
“Hinesy (Nathan Hines) sums up everything that Clermont are about. He’s big, aggressive, in your face, skilful and plays a very smart game.
“But he is just one of a number of threats in their ranks. They’re a big, physical bunch of lads and they’ve really grown as a team in the last few years.”
Morgan Parra (Clermont Auvergne) – “If you are asking me to name the dangerous players in Leinster’s team I will tell you they are the entire line-up. (Jonathan) Sexton, the back row, the props…everyone.
“On top of that they know each other by heart and are so used to playing together. The Heineken Cup is their main goal but we have enough motivation to challenge them.
“Clermont want to win both the Heineken Cup and the Top 14. For sure it is very complicated and there are a lot of obstacles but the squad can do it.
“It we finish the season without a title that would be a huge disappointment. We must be ready to accept that but we will do everything we can do to win both competitions.
“The Heineken Cup is a tournament at the highest level and I just want to win it – it would be a huge experience. I want to win titles wearing this jersey and I’m not happy about simply qualifying for this semi-final.
“I want to grow and evolve with this team, I want to stay for a long time and I know it is possible for us to win titles.”
Current Form – Clermont Auvergne – (Top 14 Championship): Won 22-13 at home to Lyon; Won 17-0 away to Toulon; Won 34-6 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 22-11 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 19-13 at home to Bayonne; Lost 22-9 away to Toulouse; Won 29-13 at home to Agen; Won 39-3 away to Perpignan; Won 41-0 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 37-16 away to Stade Francais; (Heineken Cup): Lost 16-11 away to Ulster; Won 54-3 at home to Aironi Rugby; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 29-23 away to Montpellier; Won 33-16 at home to Castres Olympique; (Heineken Cup); Won 30-12 at home to Leicester Tigers; Lost 23-19 away to Leicester Tigers; (Top 14 Championship): Won 9-6 away to Brive; Drew 6-6 away to Lyon; Won 25-19 at home to Toulon; (Heineken Cup): Won 82-0 away to Aironi Rugby; Won 19-15 at home to Ulster; (Top 14 Championship): Won 17-10 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 31-13 at home to Racing Metro 92; Drew 22-22 away to Bayonne; Won 35-5 at home to Toulouse; Won 29-20 away to Agen; Won 29-23 at home to Perpignan; Lost 15-14 away to Biarritz Olympique; (Heineken Cup quarter-final): Won 22-3 away to Saracens; (Top 14 Championship): Won 25-9 at home to Stade Francais; Won 22-9 at home to Montpellier
Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 27-3 away to the Ospreys; Won 31-10 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-19 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 15-10 away to the Scarlets; Won 26-7 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 30-20 at home to Connacht; Won 36-28 away to Edinburgh; Won 24-19 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Drew 16-16 with Montpellier; Won 38-13 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 30-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 52-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 18-13 away to Bath; Won 52-27 at home to Bath; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-13 at home to Ulster; Won 15-13 away to Connacht; Won 23-19 away to Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 23-16 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 25-3 at home to Montpellier; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-8 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 16-13 at home to the Scarlets; Drew 10-10 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 22-6 away to Aironi Rugby; Lost 23-22 at home to the Ospreys; Won 18-9 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup quarter-final): Won 34-3 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 54-13 at home to Edinburgh; Won 16-8 away to Ulster
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Clermont Auvergne – Points: Morgan Parra 56; Tries: Julien Malzieu 5; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 77; Tries: Rob Kearney 6
Previous European Meetings: 5
Saturday, December 18, 2010 – Pool 2 – Leinster 24 Clermont Auvergne 8, Aviva Stadium
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:
Clermont Auvergne –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
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
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