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Leinster Rugby vs Castres Olympique
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 2 Round 5
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Saturday, 17th January 2015, 17:30

Television: Live - Sky Sports 2

So it's back to European action this week as Leinster look to qualify from their pool, hopefully as winners. Leinster are currently level on points with Harlequins, but lie behind them in the table due to Londoners' superior head-to-head record. So what do Leinster need to do to win the pool?

Well, it's complicated.

As Harlequins have that head-to-head advantage, Leinster have to better their points total in the final two games to finish ahead of them. So if Leinster win on Saturday, all eyes will go to the TV for the Harlequins-Wasps game which directly follows it. And we'll all be fervently supporting Wasps, right?

Well, it's complicated.

The problem is Wasps themselves, who looked dead and buried after losing their first two games. However they then managed to record bonus point wins over Castres in both the home and away fixtures. Add those points to the two losing bonus points they took in their first two games and they now have a very respectable total of twelve, only one less than Leinster and Harlequins. So now Wasps can top the pool themselves by winning their last two games. So it could be argued that a Harlequins win, without a losing bonus point, could make Leinster's trip to Wasps next week an easier game to win as they would have nothing to play for other than pride.

So you see...it's complicated.

For theirs and our sake, it's probably best for Leinster to just concentrate on tomorrow's game at home to Castres, which they simply have to win. In that regard, they're lucky to be taking on a team in the midst of a crisis.

Castres were Top 14 champions in 2013 and finalists last season, but this must seem like a lifetime ago to their fans. They've been a shambles this season in both domestic and European competition as their championship-winning squad has been cherry-picked by the wealthier French clubs. They've played twenty games in all competitions this season and won just six, all of them at home. In their ten away defeats this season, they've conceded an average of 36 points per game.

Lying second from bottom in the Top14 table, they're more concerned about relegation at the moment than anything else and their coaches have already been told they're gone at the end of the season. They haven't just sent their under-12s over though, they've picked a reasonably strong team. Rory Kockott, who was finally capped for France in the autumn, comes back in at scrum-half in a backline which contains dangerous runners in Romain Martial, Romain Cabannes and Marcel Garvey. Their pack contains two Scottish internationals in Richie Gray and Johnnie Beattie as well as veteran flanker Ibrahim Diarra, who's always a nightmare at the breakdown. It's a decent team, but you wonder will they try a leg, on the road with nothing to play for.

It's clear from looking at some of their results this season that when things get tough on their travels, they fold quicker than Superman on laundry day (© Bart Simpson). Even La Rochelle, the only team below them at the bottom of the French league, put 41 points on them.

For Leinster they really need to get five points by getting four tries or more. To do that, Leinster need to be sharper in attack than they were last week against Cardiff, when they blew several chances in the opposition twenty-two before finally grinding down the 14 men. Matt O'Connor has made five changes to the starting team from last week. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absence of Mike Ross entirely from the playing squad. Apparently Ross is fit but Marty Moore is picked again to start, after he came through his fifty minutes quite well last week, and Tadgh Furlong's greater ability in the loose sees him preferred for the bench.

In the second row Devin Toner comes back in for Kane Douglas and Jamie Heaslip is fit enough to start at number eight so Jack Conan moves to blindside in place of Dominic Ryan who reverts to the bench. In the backs Eoin Reddan comes in for Luke McGrath who drops to the bench. Ian Madigan and Luke Fitzgerald come into the centre in place of Noel Reid and Ben T'eo, which means Jimmy Gopperth starts at ten, as he has done for all the European games this season. The back three is unchanged from the last day.

Who knows, maybe Castres will find some pride from somewhere and make a game of it, if only for the first half. In that case, Leinster just need to be patient, build a score and remove all hope from them and wait for the second half collapse. If they can do that, Leinster should be good enough to get a comfortable win and a bonus point.

After that, they can put up their feet and watch Quins-Wasps and hope for the right result, whatever that turns out to be.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Teams Rob Kearney 15 Julien Dumora
Fergus McFadden 14 Romain Martial
Luke Fitzgerald 13 Thomas Combezou
Ian Madigan 12 Romain Cabannes (C)
Dave Kearney 11 Marcel Garvey
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Daniel Kirkpatrick
Eoin Reddan
9 Rory Kockott

Michael Bent 1 Saimone Taumoepeau
Sean Cronin 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier
Marty Moore
3 Ramiro Herrera
Devin Toner 4 Richie Gray
Mike McCarthy 5 Christophe Samson
Jack Conan6 Ibrahim Diarra
Jordi Murphy 7 Jannie Bornman
Jamie Heaslip (C) 8 Johnnie Beattie

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Mathieu Bonello
Jamie Hagan 17 Paea Faanunu
Tadhg Furlong 18 Benjamin Desroche
Kane Douglas 19 Yohan Montes
Dominic Ryan 20
Piula Faasalele
Luke McGrath21 Remi Tales
Gordon D'Arcy 22 Remi Grosso
Darragh Fanning 23 Antoine Dupont

Not Considered
due to Injury
Cian Healy,
Edward Byrne,
Sean O'Brien,
Rhys Ruddock,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Dan Leavy,
Zane Kirchner,
Shane Jennings

Officials Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy),
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (Italy), Stefano Penne (Italy),
Fourth Official: Paul Haycock (Ireland),
Citing Commissioner: Mike Rafter (England),
TMO: Mauro Dordolo (Italy)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-01-16