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Castres Olympique vs Leinster Rugby
Heineken Cup, Pool 1, Match 5
Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres,
Sunday, 12th January 2014, 13:45 (12:45 Irish time)

Television: Live - Sky Sports 2 (Red Button), Highlights TG4 17:00

Two games!

This coming Sunday Leinster play Castres and then five days later they take on the Ospreys.

Win them both and Leinster will be in the quarter-finals, possibly with a home draw if other results go their way.

Win one of two and they'll be in a desperate scramble to qualify at all, although again it will depend on how the other games in the pool go.

Lose both and they'll be out!

When Leinster were thumping Northampton away in the third round of pools games no one saw this nervous predicament coming. Surely a home win would follow the next week and Leinster would be all but qualified with a quarter-final in the Aviva to look forward to in April. Perhaps the players got a little too sure of themselves and they certainly played like a complacent team. As bad as the defeat was, that losing bonus point that was lost with the final play of the game is also looking more and more costly every time you do the maths.

But what's done is done. Leinster have gotten themselves into this situation but they still have their fate in their own hands as they take on the French Champions Castres who are a daunting prospect at home. They've only lost once there in the last season and a half, and that was against Ulster in the Heineken Cup in what was effectively a dead rubber for them. Leinster of course know that Castres are no joke at home. Five years ago, they hammered Castres 33-3 at home only to lose 18-15 a week later, when Castres had nothing to play for other than pride.

Two wins so far for Castres mean they can still qualify but their complete lack of bonus points means that it's an outside chance at best. You would certainly feel that protecting their proud home record will mean a lot more to them. They've certainly named a strong team anyway. Brice Dulin, Remi Grosso and Max Evans form a dangerous back three with Seremaia Bai and Remi Lamerat in the midfield. Remi Tales captains the team from fly-half and Cedric Garcia deputises for the injured Rory Kockott at scrum-half.

French international loosehead Yannick Forestier is part of a powerful front row with Marc-Antoine Rallier and the massive Kiwi tighhead Karena Wihongi. Scottish international second row Richie Gray is the only survivor from the Castres pack that started in the RDS and he partners veteran Christophe Samson. A backrow of Mathieu Babillot, Ibrahim Diarra and Piula Faasalele completes the side.

For Leinster, there are six changes (including one positional) to the team that stuttered against Connacht last week before finally pulling away. In the backs Luke Fitzgerald has recovered from illness to reclaim his place on the left wing with Dave Kearney moving back to the right wing in place of Zane Kirchner. As expected Jimmy Gopperth's impressive showing off the bench last week gets him the nod over Ian Madigan but somewhat surprisingly, Eoin Reddan is retained in the line-up ahead of Isaac Boss.

In the pack Mike Ross comes back in for Martin Moore at tighthead alongside Jack McGrath and Sean Cronin. Mike McCarthy comes in for Tom Denton in the second row where he partners Devin Toner. Rhys Ruddock has lost his fitness fight but Kevin McLaughlin will be itching to show that he's still worth a starting place. On the other side Jordi Murphy is retained at openside with Shane Jennings fit but left on the bench. With Leo Cullen also named on the replacements Jamie Heaslip continues to captain the team from number eight.

Leinster are certainly up against it, and they really need to win this game. The positive thing is that Leinster's two best performances this season have come on the road in Europe at the Ospreys and Northampton. They will require another performance of that calibre to leave with a win.

Team Lineups

Castres Olympique

Leinster Rugby
Teams Brice Dulin 15 Rob Kearney
Remi Grosso 14 Dave Kearney
Seremaia Bai 13 Brian O'Driscoll
Remi Lamerat 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Max Evans 11 Luke Fitzgerald
Remi Tales (C) 10 Jimmy Gopperth
Cedric Garcia 9 Eoin Reddan

Yannick Forestier 1 Jack McGrath
Marc-Antoine Rallier 2 Sean Cronin
Karena Wihongi 3 Mike Ross
Richie Gray 4 Devin Toner
Christophe Samson 5 Mike McCarthy
Mathieu Babillot 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Ibrahim Diarra 7 Jordi Murphy
Piula Faasalele 8 Jamie Heaslip (C)

Replacements Brice Mach 16 Aaron Dundon
Mihaita Lazar 17 Jack O'Connell
Benjamin Desroche 18 Martin Moore
Yannick Caballero 19 Leo Cullen
Julien Tomas 20
Shane Jennings
Daniel Kirkpatrick 21 Isaac Boss
Marcel Garvey 22 Ian Madigan
Anton Peikrishvili 23 Zane Kirchner

Not Considered
due to Injury
Antonie Claassen,
Rory Kockott

Conor Gilsenan,
Dan Leavy,
Andrew Goodman,
Richardt Strauss,
Fergus McFadden,
Cian Healy,
Sean O'Brien,
Rhys Ruddock
Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Jon Mason (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: Shaun Gallagher (ERU)
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-01-10