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Leinster V. SU Agen,

Lansdowne Road, Dublin,

09th December 2006, 17:35

We like to maul it, maul it.
We like to maul it, maul it.
We like to maul it, maul it.
We like to .........MAUL IT!

Hence it came to pass last Saturday that Leinster fans finally rejected the fancy Dan rugby that they'd seen over the last two seasons. No more adventurous backline moves, no more off-loading in the tackle, no more running from our own twenty-two with speed and innovative handling. No, from now it's maul, pick and go, maul, bash it up, pick and go, and maul again. Leinster fans even gave their formal blessing with the above chant.

Actually in reality that's not quite true but it was interesting to see a Leinster pack play a real gritty, tight game in the second half against Ulster. It was exactly what the conditions required and the pack executed the plan superbly. The performance against Ulster (and to a lesser extent Glasgow) showed the pack can play an effective driving game when required and it's no bad thing to have in the armoury.

In the end Leinster should probably have won the game but taking two points away from Ravenhill is more than most sides do and it keeps us in touch with them at the top of the table. A special mention must go to the Leinster supporters who made the fourteen and a half hour round trip on the supporter's coaches (okay, it wasn't quite that long but at times it felt like it!) The fans had to endure possibly the most dire conditions Leinster have ever experienced but did so in good heart and good voice. Once again though, a big well done to the organisers of the trip.

This week it's back to the vital business of the Heineken Cup. When the group was announced Agen were seen by some as something of an easy touch, strong at home but no interest on their travels. Their initial fortunate win over Edinburgh confirmed that impression and when they announced seven changes to their side for the game away to Gloucester it seemed, like Bourgoin last season, they didn't really give a damn. Poor old Gloucester were in for the shock of their lives though as Agen beat them 32-26 and even grabbed a bonus point for their troubles. This served as a serious wake-up call to Leinster that Agen are to be respected.

Though they haven't made a huge impression in the Heineken Cup in the years to date, Agen have a long and proud history. They're not as star-studded as some of the other French teams but this presents its own danger as many of their players are unknown quantities. One name that needs little introduction is Rupeni Caucaunibuca. The Fijian winger is like rugby's version of Eric Cantona, capable of brilliance but also somewhat 'eccentric' and prone to serious indiscipline. He can score a brilliant length of the pitch try one minute and then kick/punch a forward in the head the next. That's assuming he actually turns up of course and he hasn't lost his passport (his recent excuse for missing the Pacific Islands game against Wales). For all that though he remains an exhilarating sight on the rugby field when he's in the mood and Shane Horgan will have his work cut out for him this Saturday. He's not their only attacking option though, full-back Pépito Elhorga has just broken back into the French national team and he's a dangerous, unpredictable runner. Manu Ahotaeiloa is a big unit in the centre and the fly-half Jérôme Miquel has kicked well so far in the competition. Their pack has only a few big names but it's a typically hard, grizzled unit and it will make the Leinster pack work for every scrap of ball they get. They have a couple of quality Kiwis in Kees Meeuws and Ace Tiatia in the front row as well as South African lock Wilhelm Stoltz.

Leinster have made four changes to the side that drew with Ulster. Newly signed prop Stanley Wright comes in at tighthead to replace the injured Fosi Pa'alamo in the only change to the tight five. Stephen Keogh's impressive cameo last week sees him reclaim his number six shirt from Owen Finegan. In the backs Christian Warner replaces Andy Dunne while Girvan Dempsey replaces Luke Fitzgerald at full-back. Dempsey will take over as place-kicker and it will be a big test for him. Despite his long Leinster career, he's rarely been the place-kicker and it will be a big ask for him. Let's hope for a dry, calm day!

Needless to say Saturday's match is a must-win game, especially after the last minute defeat to Edinburgh in the last match out. To win, Leinster will need to front up to the big Agen pack and hopefully generate enough quality ball to let the backs open up their defense. A win, hopefully with a bonus point, is more than obtainable. It will be tough but hopefully Leinster will travel to Agen next week with a good win under their belts.



Girvan Dempsey, Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll (C), Gordon D'Arcy, Denis Hickie, Christian Warner, Chris Whitaker, Ronan McCormack, Brian Blaney, Stanley Wright, Trevor Hogan, Malcolm O'Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip
Replacements: Bernard Jackman, Reggie Corrigan, Owen Finegan, Cameron Jowitt, Guy Easterby, Andrew Dunne/Kieran Lewis, Luke Fitzgerald

SU Agen
Pépito Elhorga, Sylvain Mirande, Conrad Stoltz, Manu Ahotaeiloa, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Jérôme Miquel, Nicolas Morlaes (C), Eusebio Guinazu, Ace Tiatia, Kees Meeuws, Wilhelm Stoltz, Sorin Socol, Mathieu Lièvremont, Lucas Ostiglia, Opeti Fonua
Replacements: Laurent Cabarry, Alessio Galasso, Adri Badenhorst, Fabrice Culine, Andrew Fulton, Morisson Faaletino, Luc Lafforgue

by Jim O'Connor, © 2006-12-09