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Leinster Rugby vs Wasps
European Champions Cup Pool 5
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Sunday, 15th November 2015, 13:00

Television: Live - BT Sports, Highlights - TG4

After five wins from their first seven league games, Leinster head into European competition in good heart. They will need to be because they're in the toughest pool of the competition with three teams that they played last season. They had Wasps in their pool last season and beat them at home and drew with them away. They had Bath at home in the quarter-finals and were somewhat lucky to beat them and they had Toulon in the semi-final when they lost in extra time.

Toulon, of course, went on to take the trophy for the third year running and with their trusty cheque book they've further improved their hand by recruiting the likes of Ma'a Nonu, Samu Manoa, James O'Connor, Quade Cooper and Duane Vermeulen. They also signed Paul O'Connell of course but unfortunately the injury he suffered in his final game for Ireland looks to have wiped out most, if not all, of his season. Leinster will have their double header against Toulon next month but first they need to beat two English teams who've improved since last season. Next week they travel to the Recreation Ground in Bath, where they've never lost on three previous visits, but before that they welcome Wasps to the RDS on Sunday.

Wasps are in middling form so far this season having won both their home games but lost their two away games in the league. Their coach Dai Young has made just three changes from the team who beat Gloucester last week, two of them of them enforced. Italian tigh-head Lorenzo Cittadini is suspended and with Samoan international James Johnston injured, Jake Cooper-Woolley starts in the number three jersey. Cooper-Woolley wouldn't be too well known over here but he did well enough last term to be named in Will Greenwood's team of the season, so he may not necessarily be a soft touch. He forms a front row with Italian hooker Carlo Festuccia and Matt Mullan who comes in at loosehead and skippers the side. The other change is in the back row where Sam Jones comes in for the injured James Haskell. It's still a very useful back row though with the massively experienced former Wallaby George Smith at openside and the powerful Fijian Nathan Hughes at number eight. Joe Launchbury and Bradley Davies are a mobile and powerful combination in the second row.

Former Leinster player Jimmy Gopperth is denied a return to the RDS as he's suspended so Scottish international Ruaridh Jackson is entrusted with the number 10 jersey alongside the pacey Joe Simpson at scrum-half. Elliot Daly and Ben Jacobs are decent centres but the real danger is in the back three. Christian Wade has hurt Leinster before with his lightning pace and former Auckland team-mates Charles Piutau and Frank Halai complete the back three. Full-back Piutau will join Ulster next season, but Wasps did a canny bit of business snapping him up for a season after he was left out of the New Zealand World Cup squad. He's not the biggest but he's quick and a very clever footballer. Halai is big and quick and a proven finisher. It's interesting to see Ashley Johnson, who was so good in the back row in last season's fixtures, is named as replacement hooker.

Leinster make nine changes to the team that started last week. Injuries to Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te'o have limited the options in the backline so Isa Nacewa skippers the team from full-back. Zane Kirchner stays on the right wing but Dave Kearney returns on the left and Fergus McFadden makes his first start at outside centre for a year alongside Noel Reid who retains the number 12 jersey. Eoin Reddan returns at scrum-half against the team he won the first of his three Heineken Cup medals with. He partners Johnny Sexton who will be delighted to start his first match back at the RDS after coming on last week.

In the pack Jack McGrath and Richardt Strauss come into the front row alongside Mike Ross, who scored the second try of his Leinster career last week. Mike McCarthy returns to partner Devin Toner in the second row and Jordi Murphy is promoted from the bench to make up the back row with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip. Sean Cronin is fit enough to be named on a strong bench that also features Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Jack Conan and Ian Madigan.

In a pool this tough winning your home games is a must so Leinster have to go out and get the four points. With wind and rain forecast, this may not be a classic but if Leinster have to grind out a win, no one will mind too much.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-11-13

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