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Leinster Rugby vs Exeter Chiefs
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool C
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 16th December 2017, 15:15

TV: Live on BT Sports

As confidently predicted here last week, Leinster stormed to a glorious victory over Exeter at Sandy Park last week (just trust me on that, don't go back and check)!

In fairness to Leo Cullen he picked a team to grind out a win and grind it out they did, out-Chiefing the Chiefs with the relentless pick and drive game in the second half. Exeter were a tough team but you could see the difference on the night between a really good club pack and a top international pack. Exeter possibly froze a little on the night and Leinster really could have been out of sight after the first twenty minutes. But when Exeter came back at them they defended really strongly and in the second half, they got back down the pitch to earn the points to get the win and deny the home team even a losing bonus point. With Montpelier winning away to Glasgow it put them level with Exeter on eight points each so the Chiefs will be desperate to hit back at Leinster tomorrow.

Leinster are strong favourites but an Exeter win can't be discounted as these double-headers have a history of producing odd results. Back in December 2012, Ulster beat Northampton comprehensively away only to lose meekly at home the following week. Last season Munster absolutely stuffed Leicester at home only to lose narrowly the following week. But the worst example was of course Leinster who went to Northampton in 2013 and tanned them 40-7. The Saints turned up in Dublin a week later and everyone expected another lop-sided win for Leinster. The problem was 'everyone' included the Leinster players themselves, many of whom approached kick-off with smiles on their face according to Gordon D'Arcy who wrote about the game this week. He pegged straight away that the attitude was wrong and sure enough a complacent Leinster team was deservedly beaten 18-9, not even earning a losing bonus point.

Leo Cullen was playing that day and if one good thing came out of what happened, it was that Leinster has learned a brutal lesson and are determined to never get caught like that again. And so it went that Leinster went to Northampton last season and stuffed them in Franklins Gardens again. After the match the players emerged in twos and threes from the dressing room to walk across the pitch to the post-match area to cheers for Leinster fans. Cullen however strolled across chatting on his phone, not even acknowledging the Leinster fans chants of "Leo! Leo!". It may have been construed as rude, but the message was clear, it was only half-time! So the next week at the Aviva, Leinster's attitude was right and this time they gave the Saints an even bigger thumping.

Cullen will be looking for a similar sort of performance this week, although this Exeter team are made of sterner stuff that that hapless Northampton side. Their coach Rob Baxter will have learned a lot from last week's match and will tweak their style to attack Leinster's weak points out wide. He's picked a team showing six changes from last week.

Australian international Lachlan Turner replaces the injured Phil Dollman at full-back and England international Jack Nowell comes in on the wing for James Short. Up front, Ben Moon and Tomas Francis rotate in at prop and Sam Skinner comes into the second row. The talented youngster Sam Simmonds is given the nod at number eight and overall the team has a more mobile look to it. They look set to throw the ball around.

For Leinster there is just the one change as the injured Rhys Ruddock is replaced at blindside by Sean O'Brien with Josh van der Flier taking O'Brien's slot at openside and Dan Leavy coming onto the bench. Though James Lowe was available this week, Cullen has opted against including him and has not unreasonably backed the team that got the result last week.

It's going to be another tough match but hopefully Leinster will have enough in the tank to get another win and remain top of the pool.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Exeter Chiefs
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Lachie Turner
Fergus McFadden 14 Jack Nowell
Garry Ringrose 13 Henry Slade
Robbie Henshaw 12 Ian Whitten
Isa Nacewa (C)
11 Olly Woodburn
Johnny Sexton 10 Gareth Steenson (C)
Luke McGrath 9 Nic White

Cian Healy 1 Ben Moon
Sean Cronin 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie
Tadhg Furlong 3 Tomas Francis
Devin Toner 4 Mitch Lees
Scott Fardy
5 Sam Skinner
Sean O'Brien 6 Don Armand
Josh van der Flier 7 Matt Kvesic
Jack Conan 8 Sam Simmonds

Replacements James Tracy 16 Jack Yeandle
Jack McGrath 17 Alec Hepburn
Andrew Porter
18 Harry Williams
James Ryan 19 Jonny Hill
Dan Leavy 20
Thomas Waldrom
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Will Chudley
Ross Byrne 22 Sam Hill
Jordan Larmour 23 James Short

Not Considered
due to Injury
Tom Daly,
Jamie Heaslip,
Barry Daly,
Joey Carbery,
Rhys Ruddock,
Adam Byrne

Phil Dollman,
Michele Campagnaro
Officials Referee: Pascal Gauzere (FRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-12-15