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Castres Olympique vs Leinster Rugby
Stade Pierre-Antoine,
Friday, 12 December 2008, 21:00 (20:00 Irish Time)

Television: Live Sky Sports 1, Highlights RTE2 23:20

All last week, Leinster were like a boxer talking up a less than respected opponent. The mantra was all about how they would treat the game as a test match with the required intensity from the start. The idea was right but the body language told another story and Leinster were instead sluggish from the start. In the second half they roused themselves for a scrappy points victory but they couldn't land the knock-out punch (i.e. bonus point) that the crowd were baying for.

The performance has led to a week of introspection unusual for a team is such a commanding position in its' group. You would doubt that the other two teams with fourteen points from three games, Cardiff and Leicester, have been so hard on themselves (or taken such a bashing from the media for that matter!). The coaches and players have admitted that the performance was not up to standard, particularly with regard to the handling skills. Here's hoping that their honesty will inspire a better performance tomorrow evening as they will surely need it.

A positive side to all this is that Leinster certainly won't be taking Castres lightly this weekend. French teams can be like Jekyll and Hide at this stage of the tournament. A classic example was Bourgoin three years ago. Leinster strolled to a 46 point win in the first game at Donnybrook and went into the second match expecting a similarly handy win. Inspired by their home crowd though, Bourgoin were a different team when and they won by two points, a result that effectively cost Leinster a home quarter-final. So they will be well on their guard this week, knowing a win on it's own will do just fine.

Leinster have made just two changes to the starting fifteen from last week. Despite two fine performances in a row, Sean O'Brien drops to the bench to make way for the fit-again Shane Jennings. In the backs Shane Horgan has succumbed to illness and is replaced by Simon Keogh on the right wing. Brian O'Driscoll will undergo a late fitness test on his hamstring, and if he's ruled out Felipe Contepomi will start in the centre with Fergus McFadden on the bench.

Most of the debate this week has centred on who would wear the number ten jersey. Would Jonny Sexton hold onto it or would Contepomi, Isa Nacewa or maybe even David Holwell take over? In the end, Michael Chieka has stuck with his man and gone for Sexton again. Nacewa is on the bench along with Contepomi (provided O'Driscoll starts). Once again it's a high-pressure match for Sexton, but if it goes well it could be the making of him.

As predicted Castres have made a load of changes for this week and have named a stronger looking team. It's all change in the pack with only Kees Lensing, Lei Tomiki and Florian Faure surviving from last week's starters. Former All-Black Chris Masoe starts at openside but the big news is the earlier than expected return from injury of captain Lionel Nallet. He's a massive asset for them on and off the field and his presence alone should ensure that Castres put in a proud, passionate performance. In the backs Thomas Bouquie, Sebastien Tillous-Borde and former England wing Phil Christophers all come in to make Castres a far more dangerous unit.

However, given the cold weather and heavy ground, you can see this being a really tight forward battle. The Leinster pack know they will have to front up early to an all-out assault in front of a passionate, hostile crowd. Thankfully they'll have several hundred Leinster fans over there making as much noise as possible to let them know they're not alone. If Leinster can deny Castres too good a start, you can see them grinding out a hard-fought win


Team Lineups
  Castres Olympique   Leinster Rugby
Teams Thomas Bouquae
15 Girvan Dempsey
Charles SIKA
14 Shane Horgan
Steve Kefu
13 Brian O'Driscoll *
Lionel Mazars
12 Luke Fitzgerald
Phil Christophers
11 Robert Kearney
Anthony Lagardere
10 Jonathan Sexton
Sebastian Tillous-Borde
9 Chris Whitaker (C)
Kees Lensing
1 Stan Wright
Akvsenti Giorgadze
2 Bernard Jackman
Daniel Saayman
3 CJ van der Linde
Joe Tekori
4 Devin Toner
Lionel Nallet (C)
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Lei Tomiki
6 Rocky Elsom
Chris Masoe
7 Shane Jennings
Florian Faure
8 Jamie Heaslip
Replacements Mathieu Bonello
16 Brian Blaney
Luc Ducalcon
17 Cian Healy
Rodrigo Capo Ortega
18 Trevor Hogan
Kirill Kulemin
19 Sean O'Brien
Kevin Senio
20 Chris Keane
Thomas Sanchou
21 Felipe Contepomi / Fergus McFadden
Matthieu Bourret
22 Isa Nacewa
Not Considered
due to Injury

  Gordon D'Arcy (arm)
Leo Cullen (collar bone)
Stephen Knoop (neck)
Shane Horgan (virus)
Officials Rereree: Dave Pearson (RFU)
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden (RFU), Stuart Terheege (RFU)
TMO: David Matthews

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-08-23