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Dublin: 16 °C Friday 19 April, 2019
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Exciting Leinster team can take advantage of Castres' lack of confidence

We’ve looked at four key areas of this evening’s Champions Cup clash at the RDS.

Leinster v Castres

RDS, KO 17.30, Sky Sports 2

Leinster host Castres in Dublin this evening looking for a strong win to push them to the top of Pool 2 in the Champions Cup. Here, we take a look at some of the key areas in this encounter.

Jamie Heaslip celebrates after the final whistle Heaslip will hope to celebrate another European win today. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Manque de confiance

Every rugby team in the world wants a strong start in every single game they play – you don’t need us to tell you that. It’s particularly important for Leinster this evening though, with Castres’ confidence in a bad place.

David Darricarrère and Serge Milhas’ side are currently 13th in the Top 14 and looking like a side set for relegation. Having lost all four of their Champions Cup games so far, there is no hope for them in Europe.

Their priorities are not at the RDS, even if a win would kick-start the momentum they need to prevent a drop into the Pro D2. That said, this is not a trip they will have been relishing.

Castres have lost all 10 of their away fixtures in both competitions this season on an aggregate scoreline of 364-121. La Rochelle, Montpellier, Toulouse, Stade Français, Bordeaux and Wasps have all had bonus-points wins against travelling Castres.

They epitomise the cliché about French teams.

Last weekend’s 49-13 defeat to Stade proved just how poor Castres are when the result begins to look out of sight. Poor body language, unacceptable work rate in defence and major scrum problems [more on that below] followed.

Tackling

There’s a lovely offload from Waisea Nayacalevu above, as well as some typically powerful running from Jonathan Danty, but the tackling by Remy Grosso and fullback Julien Dumora is very poor.

Only the latter starts in Dublin, but the issues above simply highlight where the Castres tackling effort was in Paris last weekend. With the potential for a win looking unlikely, the men from the Tarn switched off defensively.

Darricarrère and Milhas are already aware that they will be leaving the club at the end of the campaign, despite reaching a Top 14 final last season. It appears they have struggled to build a strong culture within the playing group since taking over.

Defending is obviously about technique, while systems make a difference, but at the very core of it all is the desire to make tackles, the willingness to work hard for one’s teammates and the bravery to engage physically.

15 Tackle

This season’s version of Castres, especially away from home, don’t appear to have those attributes.

Expect to see Leinster question the French side with some direct ball-carrying early on, although they are also likely to look to expose fullback Dumora in some one-on-one defensive situations in wider channels too.

La mêlée

Castres had some fun at scrum time against Leinster in their meeting back in October, when injuries meant Michael Bent had to start on the tighthead side. The Irish province are in a far better personnel situation at number three coming into this game.

Marty Moore starts and will be brimming with energy and desire to prove himself as the Six Nations approaches, while Mike Ross is left in the shadows for now with impressive Wexford prospect Tadhg Furlong preferred on the bench.

Bent gets the nod at loosehead with Jack McGrath suspended and Cian Healy still on the comeback trail, but the Kiwi native has put in a string of solid performances there. It all means the Leinster scrum is in an altogether better position for the second meeting with Castres.

Conversely, the French side have gone backwards in this department, seemingly reflecting their poor morale. If defence is a key indicator of squad culture, then the scrum isn’t far behind; mentality is a massive component of the eight-man set-piece.

Scrum 50

Stade Français dominated Castres at the scrum in Paris last weekend, with repeated examples like the one above. The incident above comes with today’s starting props, Saimone Taumoepeau and Ramiro Herrera on the pitch.

Minutes later, Herrera was sin binned and Stade went on to march the seven-man Castres scrum all of 15 metres over their own line for a penalty try.

Herrera is an Argentina international, while Taumoepeau has three caps for New Zealand. These are strong props, but as with so many other aspects of the Castres make-up, they are lacking in confidence right now.

Going back to our previous point, it’s essential that Leinster make a strong start in this department. They have to punish Herrara, Taumoepeau and hooker Marc-Antoine Rallier early on and grow the dominance from there.

Marius Mitrea has been one of the Pro12′s best referees this season, so Leinster can expect the Romanian match official to spot any Castres attempts to spoil the contest.

L’agressivité

One of the keys to Leinster’s Pro12 success last season was their aggressive defence, as Matt O’Connor altered their system and encouraged his players to get off the line with greater speed.

More width across the line allowed Leinster to rush up with less fear of being skirted on the outside edge, and any attacking players who ducked back inside to avoid the blitz were met with thumping hits by defenders hunting outwards from narrow channels.

Much of that has been present again this season, even if O’Connor’s men have looked susceptible around the fringes in several games. Getting back to their defensive peak will be a priority in the coming months, starting against Castres today.

Confidence Skills

The Top 14 side have actually scored more tries than Leinster in this season’s competition [six to four] but their recent attacking form has been patchy and generally stuttering.

Above, we see French international out-half Rémi Talès pass the ball behind centre Rémi Lamerat. Neither player starts today, but we get some sense of the inconsistent nature of Castres’ attacking form in this instance.

Obviously the visitors will have moments of strong attack at the RDS – they are highly-skilled professionals – but Leinster must get the linespeed back to optimum and oppressive levels and force Castres into errors.

Defending is not just about preventing the other team from scoring; it’s a means of recovering the ball in potentially advantageous attacking positions. Leinster need to get aggressive and capitalise on the Castres mistakes.

L’alignement

Despite the changes to their team, Castres arrive with a couple of excellent line-out operators in second row pair Richie Gray and Christophe Samson. The Scotland lock has not been at his best and has cut a frustrated figure at times, but he poses real danger on Leinster’s throw.

With kicking sure to play a big part in the game, particularly with Rory Kockott back at scrum-half for the visitors, there are likely to be a high number of line-outs. Sean Cronin’s throw will come under scrutiny from Gray and Samson.

“Between the work Leo puts in and Dev puts in in terms of organising the forwards and the guys around that, as well as the other guy mimicking Castres this week, we’ve a pretty good idea of what we can do,” says Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip.

CastresÕs Richie Gray Gray is a strong operator at the line-out. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“If it’s very windy and blustery, we’ve adapted for that as well. We’ve planned for what we think they will bring. They’re very big and strong as a pack and they’ve a very good maul which worked against us last time.”

Leinster will be confident of dealing with those threats, but ensuring Gray and Samson have little effect on Cronin’s throw is a priority as an exciting and experienced backline looks for as much clean set-piece possession as it can possibly get.

********************

LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Michael Bent, Sean Cronin, Marty Moore; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip (captain).

Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Jamie Hagan, Tadhg Furlong, Kane Douglas, Dominic Ryan, Luke McGrath, Gordon D’Arcy, Darragh Fanning.

CASTRES: Julien Dumora; Romain Martial, Thomas Combezou, Romain Cabannes (captain), Marcel Garvey, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Rory Kockott; Saimone Taumoepeau, Marc-Antoine Rallier, Ramiro Herrera; Richie Gray, Christophe Samson; Ibrahim Diarra, Jannie Bornman, Johnnie Beattie.

Replacements: Mathieu Bonello, Paea Faanunu, Benjamin Desroche, Yohan Montes, Piula Faasalele, Remi Tales, Remi Grosso, Antoine Dupont.

Referee: Marius Mitrea

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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