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Leinster Rugby vs Stade Francais Paris
Amlin Challenge Cup Final
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 17th May 2013, 20:00

It is almost two years since the ERC announced that its flagship event the Heineken cup final would be returning to Dublin for the first time in ten years. At the time of the announcement Leinster were champions of that competition for the second time in three years. A third championship followed in 2012 and the supporters began to dream of the ultimate three in a row in Dublin. Along with the announcement of the Heineken cup came the announcement of the final of the Amlin challenge cup, held for the last few years on the eve of the main event, in a nearby ground of smaller capacity. This year the curtain raiser would be held in Leinster's home ground the RDS. I think it's fair to say that Leinster fans bought tickets for the Heineken cup final as much in hope as expectation and daring to dream that maybe, just maybe. Some also bought tickets for the Amlin. In previous years it's been a good night out before the final itself and with it being in Dublin they decided "why not?". I'm sure very few of these supporters thought that Leinster's Heineken cup journey would end so early this season or that we would find ourselves in that same Friday night fixture when the ERC roadshow came to Dublin. But that's exactly where we find ourselves. It's a situation that has also turned the demands for tickets on its head. Tickets for the 'main event' on Saturday are easy enough to come by but with a season ticket holders lottery oversubscribed by a ratio of 8:1 tickets, many regular RDS attendees find themselves ticketless for Friday night unless they are willing to throw themselves and their principles into the shark infested waters of tout-dom.

On a more positive note, Leinster are heading into the very late season fighting for silverware on two fronts for the third season in a row. A tense rabo semi-final last weekend against Glasgow has earned them what will be the second of two consecutive weekends of RDS finals. The Rabo final will be a rematch of last year's Heineken cup final against interprovincial rivals Ulster. The table-toppers earned the right to a home final but as Ravenhill falls below the required capacity they have nominated the RDS as their home venue, creating another ticket frenzy. Before that however, Leinster have the small matter of the Amlin challenge cup final against Stade Francais.

Paris are a club with recent connections to Leinster. It was the first port of call for Michael Cheika when he first left Leinster. During his time there he rescued Leinster legend Felipe Contepomi from the Toulon bench and also found room for another legend, prop Stan Wright. Dr Phil was injured earlier in the season and recovered too late to be added to the European squad. I'm sure European registration nightmares will haunt his sleep for years. On the other hand perhaps he's glad not to take the field against a club he still publicly maintains such support and affection for. Apparently he will act as waterboy on the day which should be interesting for both himself and the RDS regulars. In any case I'm sure most fans will welcome the opportunity to wish him a final farewell as he retires at the end of this season. Stan Wright starts for Stade on the bench and will undoubtedly also be given a warm welcome. The welcome may be less warm for fellow bench warmer, ex-Munster Paul "stick it to Leinster" Warwick. I suppose as we appreciate the on-going support from Leinster players it would be churlish to allow oneself to be wound up by the Munster equivalent. Stade Francais have finished 10th in the top 14 leaving Friday night's match as their sole possibility of Heineken Cup rugby next season. With this in mind, they are fielding a strong side led as ever by their mercurial captain, Italian Parisse.

Leinster on the other hand have named a team which seems to have one eye on the rabo final next weekend with Shanes Jennings, Leo Cullen and Cian Healy all on the bench. However with strong performances of late from Jack McGrath and the depth in the backrow this should not concern Leinster fans too much. In fact on paper the strength of the bench looks to be the main difference in the teams (with all due respect to Mr Wright). To bring players of this strength into the game around the 60 minute mark could make the difference. Cronin and Ross join McGrath in the front row with Roux and Toner in the second row and Rhys Ruddock, Jamie Heaslip and the returning Sean O'Brien completing the forwards. It's another outing for the 10/12 axis of Sexton and Madigan. McFadden joins Madigan in the centre as it's one more year but a week too soon for Brian O'Driscoll. Issac Boss starts at scrumhalf and the back three is Andrew Conway, Isa and Rob. There is another welcome return with Dave Kearney named on the bench. The final match day squad members are Strauss, Cooney, Hagan and Goodman.

Hopefully when we wake up on Saturday for the biggest day in the European season and don our 'Clermont for a day, Leinster for life' t-shirt or Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon replica jersey it will be with another European cup in the cabinet for a short lived reign as both Amlin and Heineken cup champions, on course for an elusive double and perhaps, with everything crossed for the unfortunately timed B&I cup final on Friday night away to Newcastle, even a triple on the cards...

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Stade Francais Paris
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Jerome Porical
Andrew Conway 14 Jeremy Sinzelle
Fergus McFadden 13 Geoffrey Doumayrou
Ian Madigan 12 Paul Williams
Isa Nacewa
11 Hugo Bonneval
Jonathan Sexton
10 Jules Plisson
Isaac Boss
9 Julien Dupuy

Jack McGrath
1 Aled De Malmanche
Sean Cronin
2 Laurent Sempere
Mike Ross
3 Rabah Slimani
Quinn Roux
4 Scott Lavalla
Devin Toner
5 Gerhard Mostert
Rhys Ruddock 6 David Lyons
Sean O'Brien
7 Pierre Rabadan
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Sergio Parisse

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Remi Bonfils
Cian Healy 17 Stan Wright
Jamie Hagan
18 Jeremy Becasseau
Leo Cullen
19 Anton van Zyl
Shane Jennings
20 Lei Tomiki
John Cooney
21 Waisea Vuidarvuwalu
Andrew Goodman
22 Julien Arias
Dave Kearney
23 Paul Warwick

Match Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges, Ian Davies (both WRU),
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)

by Yvonne Kelly, © 2013-05-17