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Dublin: 13 °C Tuesday 10 December, 2019
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Good start half the work for Leinster in Castres

It’s a big day for Luke Fitzgerald and Gordon D’Arcy as the eastern province tries to keep the winning rhythm going.

Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

ONE GAME, ONE win. And Leinster certainly seem to feel they’re getting somewhere close to a rhythm after a fractured early season.

The next beat in the sequence comes on the familiar turf of Castres at 1pm (Irish time) today. Having faced the Top14 side early this year, most in the province’s squad know exactly the kind of challenge that lies ahead.

They may have lost a humdrum enough affair against ‘Quins nine days ago, they’ve never set Europe alight and – with Ibrahim Diarra on the bench and Rory Kockott and centre Remi Lamerat left out of the 23 altogether – they have rotated their way to an understrength team.

Yet for all that absent quality, on home soil there is a streak of pride that runs through Castres as a club. And the opportunity to scalp a three-time champ will whet the appetite for all of those who do pull on a jersey today.

“I’ve been down there with Wasps as well,” says Eoin Reddan, “we needed a win to go through; they beat us handy even though they were already out of the competition. They’re a team where, the traditional view here is that the French might lose interest in a competition, they never really have.”

“They’re a proud bunch with an excellent support base, so I think they’re a bit of an exception in terms of French teams. The fact that they’re right in the mix this time is only going to make it harder.”

Brian O'Driscoll surrounded by Castre's players Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“They do seem to be up for it when a foreign team comes in. they were out of the competition when [Leinster] played them – they didn’t pick their full side, Kockott didn’t play – but the guys who went out there absolutely blew the doors off first 20 minutes.”

The memory of that chastening first quarter in January has focused the collective Leinster mindset on the importance of starting strong this time around.

Their two biggest games of the season so far have had more than home advantage in common. Against Wasps last week, they slipped to an 8 – 20 deficit before clawing back to victory and the memory of Munster’s first-half blitz in the Aviva still hurts.

“We were disappointed to go in down at half-time last weekend,” said Rhys Ruddock.

“We felt we brought a lot of the intensity early on and delivered on a lot of the aspects we really wanted to. So just to cut out one or two of the errors that allows teams to get in the game and get their tails up and start to put pressure on us on the scoreboard.”

The flanker was speaking separately from Reddan, yet the hymn sheet had the same tune:

“A big part of that [slow starts] is discipline and giving people entries in the game. You give away a penalty about 60 out and nobody really bats an eyelid. Everyone thinks, ‘okay.’ But all of a sudden you’re in your own 22, they’ve kicked it 45 yards and you’re defending a maul. All of a sudden it’s a very vulnerable situation.

“I think we’ve done a bit of that and put ourselves under pressure. So discipline is a huge part of that. Particularly when you’re fired up and starting a game, any game, it’s important to be accurate and stick to the plans and defensive systems that the coach has given us.

Struggles

“So the plan this week will to be equally as fired up, but to be strong in terms of how we deal with the breakdown and situations early on to make sure we’re the ones putting scores on the board early and pushing on.”

Perhaps the scrum-half spoke a tad too freely about his struggles in the Stade Pierre-Antoine early in the week. Today, Isaac Boss will be the man partnering Jimmy Gopperth, who in January scored the brace of tries in that hauled Leinster back into the game by half-time after Castres had ‘blown the doors off’ and opened up a 14-point lead.

The most exciting aspect of Matt O’Connor’s selection is the re-appearance of Luke Fitzgerald on the left wing. With Mike Ross and Rob Kearney once again not meeting Leinster’s public prediction that they would be fit to start, the 2009 Lion gives some star quality to a back-line still trying to find its feet and settle on a midfield combination.

Gordon D’Arcy will run from outside centre on the occasion of his landmark 100th European appearance with Ian Madigan filling the jersey so long associated with the Wexford man, 12.

Kane Douglas, Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

With Ross injured, the only change in the pack brings Kane Douglas into the second row to partner Devin Toner. Mike McCarthy instead joins Reddan, Noel Reid and the powerful young number eight Jack Conan on the bench.

“If we look at one area we need to step it up a gear,” Ruddock says with his eye naturally drifting onto the set-piece, “it was probably our maul defence.

“We let Wasps get a couple of rumbles on us. One of them led to the Wade try, so we can expect them to take us on there – I think they’ll definitely come after us, so we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Castres Olympique: Geoffrey Palis; Max Evans, Christopher Tuatara, Romain Cabannes, Remi Grosso; Remi Tales (capt), Cedric Garcia; Saimone Taumoepeau, Brice Mach, Ramiro Herrera, Richie Gray, Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Piula Faasalele, Yannick Caballero, Jannie Bornman.

Replacements: Mathieu Bonello, Mihaita Lazar, Yohan Montes, Christophe Samson, Mathieu Babillot, Romain Martial, Julien Dumora, Antoine Dupont

Leinster Rugby: Zane Kirchner; Darragh Fanning, Gordon D’Arcy, Ian Madigan, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Kane Douglas, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Jamie Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Ed Byrne, Tadhg Furlong, Mike McCarthy, Jack Conan, Eoin Reddan, Noel Reid, Mick McGrath.

Broadcaster: Sky Sports 3

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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