Can Pool 2 leaders Leinster maintain their winning start to this season’s Heineken Cup, or will Clermont Auvergne prove too strong on their home patch? A mouth-watering duel is in prospect as Joe Scmidt’s current and former teams face off.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 2: Sunday, December 12
CLERMONT AUVERGNE (2nd) v LEINSTER (1st), Stade Marcel Michelin, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2/Xtra red button)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Clermont Auvergne in Sunday’s Heineken Cup Pool 2 clash at Stade Marcel Michelin has been named.
Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt has made four changes in personnel to the team that started last weekend’s 17-17 Magners League draw with the Scarlets.
Isaac Boss is preferred to fellow Ireland international Eoin Reddan at scrum half, and Nathan Hines, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip have been added to the starting pack.
Reddan is one of three Ireland internationals named on the replacements bench, with Cian Healy and Devin Toner also included.
Sunday’s game marks Leinster’s 100th Heineken Cup fixture and the team will be led once more by the experienced Leo Cullen who starts in the second row alongside Scotland international Hines.
Sean O’Brien reverts to blindside flanker, featuring in an all-Ireland back row alongside Jennings and Heaslip.
Boss partners Jonathan Sexton at half-back and with Brian O’Driscoll sidelined by injury, Eoin O’Malley will continue his centre partnership with Gordon D’Arcy.
The 22-year-old O’Malley has shown good form in his recent outings in the Magners League, and comes in to make his Heineken Cup debut.
Fergus McFadden, another in-form player, lines up once again on the left wing in an unchanged back-three alongside Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa.
Schmidt, the former Clermont Auvergne backs coach, said: “We had a fantastic game when the two sides met last season. Clermont Auvergne outscored Leinster by three tries to two that night, but left 26 points in missed kicks out on the field.
“Leinster were lucky to get their noses over the line, but they showed all the character we knew they had. What I learned last season is you can’t go to a place like Clermont and just look to try to get a bonus point out of it. Leicester tried that and they had 40 points and five tries put on them.
“You have got to go to Clermont and play against them. We just want to let the result take care of itself by playing as well as we can. Hopefully, we can get something out of the game and take some confidence into the second leg.”
Meanwhile, France international Aurélien Rougerie has shaken off a thigh strain to lead Clermont Auvergne in Sunday’s match.
Also included in the matchday squad are hooker Mario Ledesma and lock Thibaut Privat who have both overcome knee injuries, and out-half Brock James is rated fit to start after nursing some sore ribs.
James, the only non-international in the 23-man panel, will line out at half-back alongside influential scrum half Morgan Parra, who has penned a new three-year contract with the reigning French champions.
Isaac Boss will know all about the hosts’ number 8 Sione Lauaki. The former All Black played with Boss at the Chiefs and will anchor a Clermont Auvergne scrum which has Thomas Domingo, Ti’i Paulo and Martin Scelzo in the front row.
Vern Cotter’s men downed current Top 14 leaders Toulouse last Saturday, with Parra kicking six penalties and converting tries from Julien Malzieu and Alexandre Lapandry in the 32-25 home win.
Anthony Floch and Gavin Williams, who faces a late fitness test, have been added to the back-line for Sunday’s game, while there is an entirely new front row and Julien Bonnaire is preferred to Elvis Vermeulen in the back row.
CLERMONT AUVERGNE: Anthony Floch; Napolioni Nalaga, Aurélien Rougerie (capt), Gavin Williams, Julien Malzieu; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Ti’i Paulo, Martin Scelzo, Loic Jacquet, Thibaut Privat, Julien Bonnaire, Alexandre Lapandry, Sione Lauaki.
Replacements: Mario Ledesma, Lionel Faure, Davit Zirakashvili, Julien Pierre, Elvis Vermeulen, Kevin Senio, Tasesa Lavea, Benoît Baby.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Eoin O’Malley, Gordon D’Arcy, Fergus McFadden; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Cian Healy, Clint Newland, Devin Toner, Dominic Ryan, Eoin Reddan, Shaun Berne, David Kearney.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Sean Davey. Robin Goodliffe (both England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Clermont Auvergne to win: 1/6; Draw: 22/1; Leinster to win: 4/1
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Pre-Match Quotes: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “The thing about going to play French teams, especially in France where they generally have such proud home records, is that they will throw the kitchen sink at you.
“And they will do real damage if you stand by and allow them to dictate play. So that’s the first test you face.
“If you can hold your nerve in the opening spell and assert yourself early on then you can be successful.
“It’s a magnificent stadium to play in. The whole city is rugby mad and the stadium is the focal point of the city.
“You really get a sense that the club is a hugely important part of people’s everyday lives there and the passion that comes fromthe stands is something else.
“Even though we defeated them in the Heineken Cup quarter-final last season at the RDS, the game could have gone either way again.
“They came with the intention of playing that night and it shows there are fine margins whenever good sides face each other. Thankfully we came out on the right side of the result.
“You only have to look at their victory over Toulouse at the weekend. They went behind early but composed themselves and scored some excellent tries.
“I was impressed by their performances against Leicester and the Ospreys last season and their home record is second to none.
“Since winning the French title, they seem to have gone up a notch and with their budget and financial backing, they’re a serious prospect.
“They have a big forward pack with big ball carriers and great strength in depth. And in the likes of (Morgan) Parra and Brock James they have players who can kick points from anywhere on the pitch.
“So we know that any mistakes will be punished. But as a player, you want to be tested against the best teams in Europe and whenever these Heineken Cup fortnights come around there’s a special buzz because it’s not often that you play against French or English teams and it brings a fresh challenge.
“We know that we can create chances if we work hard, even though we are without a few players. You have to try and impose yourself and not sit back and invite pressure.”
Eoin O’Malley (Leinster) – “(Facing Rougerie) is something I’m really looking forward to. It’s a big chance to prove myself and to play at that level would be pretty exciting.
“Obviously, he is a world class player, apart from his size, and I think they have them all across the teamsheet.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be training against Brian (O’Driscoll) and Gordon (D’Arcy) for the last few years and that’s a big enough challenge itself. I’m not the biggest man, so it’s not a surprise for me to be marking someone bigger than me.
“I’ll have to be fully focused and concentrating. I’m looking forward to it.
“Clermont are definitely a team that like to throw the ball around. They have big, strong and fast guys with good skills. It is a very attractive brand of rugby they play, and hopefully, we’ll be able to stop it on Sunday.
“It was Joe (Schmidt) who probably got them playing like that and hopefully he knows how to dismantle them as well.”
Current Form – Clermont Auvergne (Top 14 Championship): Lost 21-13 away to Perpignan; Won 25-12 away to Bourgoin; Won 33-9 at home to Brive; Lost 28-17 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 27-10 at home to Montpellier; Lost 18-16 away to Bayonne; Lost 28-16 away to Toulon; Won 24-6 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 45-19 at home to Agen; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-10 at home to Saracens; Lost 16-9 away to Racing Metro 92; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 16-13 away to Biarritz Olympique; Won 27-3 at home to Stade Francais; Lost 22-14 away to La Rochelle; Won 32-25 at home to Toulouse
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
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Clermont Auvergne – Points: Mogan Parra 10; Tries: Napolioni Nalaga, Julien Malzieu, Jamie Cudmore 1 each; Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 25; Tries: Rob Kearney, Richardt Strauss, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Fergus McFadden, Jonathan Sexton 1 each
Previous European Meetings: 3
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 –
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