JOE’s Champions Cup Previews: Leinster v Castres
Leinster have a great chance to seize control of Pool 2 with a victory in France on Sunday in the second round of the Champions Cup.
A win away in France is no easy feat no matter who the opposition are but Castres could be the best side to face in Europe at the moment. They have had a poor start to their domestic league and the fact that they have left star player Rory Kockott out of the squad for Sunday’s game suggests that they are concentrating solely on the Top 14.
Leinster won the hard way against Wasps at the RDS on Sunday coming from behind with two tries in ten minutes in the second half to claim the victory 25-20. They were entirely unconvincing in their win but they showed a much needed skill in that game, the ability to grind out a result while not playing well.
Luke Fitzgerald makes a welcome return for Leinster this weekend
Castres suffered a 25-6 loss against Harlequins at the Stoop last Friday but that margin was harsh on the French side and they didn’t deserve to lose like that. They were as good if not better than Harlequins but the English side got the rub of the green on a couple of occasions and a few moments of magic from Danny Care and Nick Evans helped Harlequins to a comfortable victory.
Neither of the two teams have had successful starts to their campaigns by their very high standards; Leinster sit sixth in the PRO12 table while Castres are languishing down in twelfth spot in the Top 14.
Leinster have been struck down by a spate of high profile injuries of late but they will still have expected to win the game against Wasps much easier than they did. Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy are world class players and important ball carriers for this Leinster team. In their absence, there has been a noticeable lack of big ball carriers on the Leinster side and Sean Cronin has been left to shoulder much of the ball carrying responsibility. The electric hooker is one of the best in the country at picking smart lines and busting over the gain line, but too much of the onus for forward ball has fallen at Cronin’s feet.
So it was promising to see Heaslip take up some of that mantle last weekend with an impressive 23 carries. Rhys Ruddock is a big unit and should carry the ball better than he does, but he has a tendency to receive the ball standing still or on his heels. He therefore doesn’t build momentum and struggles to make the yards needed from a flanker, but when he attacks the ball and takes it at speed, he has the bulk to breach the gain line and give his side go forward ball. If he can concentrate on this side of his game then he can really add to the great breakdown play and tackling he does for Leinster.
Castres have a limited interest in European rugby this year and will be very much concentrating on turning around their poor Top 14 form. They lost Brice Dulin and Antonie Claassen during the summer and these two have been sorely missed this season. Dulin is one of the premier counter-attacking full-backs in European rugby and Claassen was a talisman for the French side.
How will the game will play out?
We think that this will be a win for Leinster. Despite playing away in the rugby fortress that is France, we think that Leinster have a bigger interest in the competition than their rivals and will have more hunger for the game.
Leinster certainly have the tools necessary to pull off the victory in France having won their last season against the same opposition. Despite not quite being as good of team as they were last season, yet, they should do the job on Sunday.
Leinster by 7 to 12 points…
Castres: 15 Geoffrey Palis, 14 Max Evans, 13 Christopher Tuatara-Morrison, 12 Romain Cabannes, 11 Remi Grosso, 10 Remi Tales (c), 9 Cedric Garcia, 8 Jannie Bornman, 7 Yannick Caballero, 6 Piula Faasalele, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau.
Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Yohan Montes, 19 Christophe Samson, 20 Mathieu Babillot, 21 Romain Martial, 22 Julien Dumora, 23 Antoine Dupont.
Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Darragh Fanning, 13 Gordon D'Arcy, 12 Ian Madigan, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Dominic Ryan, 6 Rhys Ruddock, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Michael Bent, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Ed Byrne, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Noel Reid, 23 Mick McGrath.
Date: Sunday, October 26
Kick-off: 15:15 local time (14:15 BST)
Venue: Stade Pierre Antoine
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Small (England), Paul Dix (England)
Television match official: Trevor Fisher (England)
Timekeeper: Bernard Dal Maso (France)
Assessor: Jim Fleming (Scotland)