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Brive vs Leinster Rugby
Stade Municipal, Brive
Saturday 17th October 2009, 16:45 (15:45 Irish Time)

Television: Live Sky Sports 2, Highlights RTE2 21:30

First rule of the Heineken Cup Qualification is you don't lose your home games.

Second rule of Heineken Cup Qualification is YOU DON'T LOSE YOUR HOME GAMES!!!!!

After the high of the Munster win, Leinster were brought down to earth with a bump last week when London Irish gate-crashed the party. After a bright start to the match, Leinster were drawn into a niggly arm-wrestle of a match. This was aided by the performance of referee Roman Poite, who must have been out sick the day they taught offside in refereeing school. His incompetence ruined the game as a spectacle as both defences rushed up early and cancelled each other out.

As poor as the referee was though, London Irish deserved their win. They played the referee better and were more physical at the breakdown. They also played with more discipline and stuck to their gameplan. Leinster got frustrated when their scoring dried up and started giving away silly penalties again. They also kicked too much ball away and regressed from the previous week when they were keeping the ball in hand more.

So it's a testament to the knife-edge nature of the Heineken Cup pool stages that in the space of a week, what many saw as a handy group has become a real struggle. Saturday's match is now a must-win game, any wiggle room has been removed. Of course it would have to be in France where winning has never come easy for Leinster. In fourteen attempts they've won only three pool matches in France, against Montferrand (now Clermont), Bourgoin and Agen. Even last year, they reserved their worst performance of the season for their trip to Castres.

Brive won't be an easy place to win either. After losing their opening match against the Scarlets, they too will be under pressure to win to keep their campaign going. Brive were of course part of the Heineken Cup's early history. They won the second Heineken Cup in 1997, destroying a highly-fancied Leicester team 28-9 in the final. The following year they made the final again, only to lose by a point to Bath. That was the last time they were seen in the Heineken Cup though as the club became beset by financial problems that saw them lose form and for a while their place in the top level of French rugby.

They've rallied in the last few years though and a decent league campaign last season finally saw them qualify for the Heineken Cup after twelve years away. Part of that recovery is in large part due to the large British contingent which has joined the club in recent years. England's World Cup winning hooker Steve Thompson was the first to join but since then England Internationals Andy Goode, Shaun Perry, Riki Flutey and Jamie Noon have joined him as well as Welsh international Alix Popham. Their influence has seen their playing style described as more English than French. They have other foreign talent too like Aussie Lachlan Mackay, Argentinean Horacio Agulla and Kiwi Viliame Waqaseduadua. They're a very handy team and are tough to beat at the Stade Municipal in front of their noisy supporters.

So it's a tough task for Leinster this Saturday and their task has been made all that harder by the suspension of Shane Jennings plus the injury doubt over Leo Cullen, who, along with Kevin McLaughlin will undergo a late fitness tests. Going into this game without the captain and vice-captain would put the onus on other senior players to step up in terms of leadership.

To win Leinster will have to start well and keep Brive under constant pressure. If the referee starts going against them at the breakdown, they need to be able to react on the field and play it smart. The loss to Castres last season was due to them being unable to read the referee. They have to learn that if a ref is penalising everything they do at a ruck, they should stop competing for the ball on the deck and wait for the opposition mistake to come.

Once again the backs owe the pack a big performance after another ragged display in attack last week. Too much ball was put to ground and moves were laboured and predictable. They need to return to picking good hard lines from depth. Brive have a fine backline even though their Lion Riki Flutey is out injured. Jamie Noon is a big unit in the centre and he'll know a good performance against the Heineken Cup Champions will come to the attention of the England management. The same goes for Andy Goode who has a bit of history with Leinster from his Leicester days.

It's going to be tense and tough but Leinster have to win and that's all there is to it. The players should remember the horrible feeling they had two years ago when they were out of the cup before Christmas. To be effectively out after two rounds would be infinitely worse.

In the raucous, intimidating atmosphere of the Stade Municipal the travelling Leinster support of five hundred or so will have to work over-time to make themselves heard. However the supporters will do their part and it's up to the players to do theirs.

Finally, only one team has lost their opening home game and gone on to qualify for the quarter-finals. That was Leinster back in Michael Chieka's first season in charge. Let's hope history repeats itself.

Team Lineups

Brive

Leinster Rugby
Teams Fabrice Estebanez (C)
15 Rob Kearney
Alexis Palisson
14 Shane Horgan
Jamie Noon
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Lachlan Mackay
12 Luke Fitzgerald
Viliame Waqaseduadua
11 Isa Nacewa
Andy Goode
10 Jonathan Sexton
Shaun Perry
9 Eoin Reddan

Andy Goode
1 Cian Healy
Steve Thompson
2 Bernard Jackman
Pat Barnard
3 Mike Ross
Christian Short
4 Leo Cullen (C) / Malcolm O'Kelly
Damien Browne
5 Nathan Hines
Gerhard Vosloo
6 Kevin McLaughlin / Malcolm O'Kelly
Vincent Forgues
7 Sean O'Brien
Antoine Claassen
8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Jean-Philippe Bonrepaux
16 John Fogarty
Petrisor Toderasc
17 CJ van der Linde
Retief Uys
18 Ronan McCormack
Simon Azoulai
19 Malcolm O'Kelly / Devin Toner
Jean-Baptiste Pejoine
20
Stephen Keogh / Kevin McLaughlin
Luciano Orquera
21 Simon Keogh
Ronnie Cooke
22 Shaun Berne
Pascal Idieder
23 Gordon D'Arcy

Not Considered
due to Injury


Stan Wright
Eoin O'Malley
CJ van der Linde
Trevor Hogan
Officials Referee: James Jones (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Hugh Watkins (WRU), Barrie Gregory (WRU)
TMO: Huw Lewis (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-10-18

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