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France the ideal setting for Leinster’s exciting attack to be unleashed again
Clermont have undoubted quality but Leinster are an exciting attacking force.

EVERYONE ATTACHED TO Leinster is excited. A Champions Cup semi-final tends to bring that, of course, but the anticipation is about more than the occasion. It centres around the way Leinster have been playing in recent times.

They have been a thrilling attacking force for much of this season and the latest chance to see them put Stuart Lancaster’s ambitious philosophy into action is simply exciting.

Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring their third try of the game with his teammates Ryan Byrne / INPHO Leinster have been relentless in attack this season. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

It’s unlikely that Leinster will close up against Clermont today [KO 3pm Irish time, Sky Sports] after a European campaign of offloading cleverly and scoring tries freely.

The players are more engaged than ever in wearing their provincial jersey, the coaching staff appear to be totally confident in what they’re preaching, and Leinster’s supporters are proud to be behind a team that plays with this kind of attacking style.

The intent and execution that Leinster showed in the quarter-final against Wasps is the template.

Joey Carbery’s kick return, Tadhg Furlong’s passing ability, Robbie Henshaw’s intelligent partnership with Garry Ringrose, Jack Conan’s dynamism and energy, Jack McGrath and Devin Toner’s work rate – the reasons to be convinced Leinster can win against Clermont this afternoon are multiple.

Of course, playing in France is a great challenge and anyone who thinks Clermont’s journey to Lyon will dampen their advantage should wait to hear and see what an extra 20,000 of these brilliant, rugby-loving lunatics bring to the occasion in a bigger stadium.

But in a way, seeing Leinster open up the way they did against Wasps, on French soil this time, would be fitting.

There is a Leinster link in the Clermont ranks, with Jono Gibbes heading into the final months of his time in charge of the Top 14 side’s forward pack before he moves to Ulster this summer in a bid to help the northern province turn their ship around.

Camille Lopez and AurŽlien Rougerie at the end of the match Billy Stickland / INPHO Camille Lopez and Aurelien Rougerie start in the backline. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Former All Black Gibbes would be frustrated to leave the Auvergne without helping ASM over the line in the Champions Cup, and he has a formidable pack to send thundering at Leinster today, particularly with Sébastien Vahaamahina, Davit Zirakashvili and Benjamin Kayser unsurprisingly coming through injury issues that the French club highlighted early in the week.

As is always the case, Clermont are a slick machine when they get dominance up front, though they have shown flaws this season too. Ulster chopped their defence to shreds in a pool stage win over Franck Azéma’s men, while their Top 14 form has not always been totally convincing.

Leinster’s pack was hit with a blow this week when Sean O’Brien was forced out with a hamstring issue that he will hope to nip in the bud, but while they lose in experience at openside, Dan Leavy is a more than capable replacement.

Indeed, having Leavy in the seven shirt alongside Conan and the steady influence of Rhys Ruddock seems rather fitting in a season where new stars have emerged for Leo Cullen’s side.

One of those men has missed out, admittedly, with Adam Byrne omitted from the match day squad altogether. He is still learning how to defend at the top level and Fergus McFadden was mightily impressive coming on against Wasps, offloading for Conan’s try and scoring one of his own in the second half.

Zane Kirchner’s versatility gets him the nod in the 23 shirt to Byrne’s frustration but it is difficult to pick holes in the Leinster squad. Cian Healy’s absence through suspension is a disappointment, but Peter Dooley fits the bill for a province that has invested in youth.

Johnny Sexton is the guiding hand overseeing those who continue to learn about top-level European rugby and his composure will be vital, particularly with opposite number Camille Lopez capable of making game-changing plays and freeing the impactful Remi Lamerat in midfield.

Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring a try with Luke McGrath Ryan Byrne / INPHO Robbie Henshaw will be key in midfield again. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

But even with Clermont’s clear talent and their sheer desperation to give themselves another final shot at a Champions Cup crown, Leinster have enough to win away from home and face into the daunting task of taking down Saracens.

Whether that proves to be the case or not, we should expect Leinster to provide the thrills once again. Joeuz!

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15. Joey Carbery
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Isa Nacewa (captain)
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Luke McGrath

1. Jack McGrath
2. Richardt Strauss
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. Hayden Triggs
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Dan Leavy
8. Jack Conan


16. Seán Cronin
17. Peter Dooley
18. Michael Bent
19. Ross Molony
20. Josh van der Flier
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Zane Kirchner


15. Scott Spedding
14. David Strettle
13. Aurelien Rougerie
12. Remi Lamerat
11. Nick Abendanon
10. Camille Lopez
9. Morgan Parra

1. Raphael Chaume
2. Benjamin Kayser
3. Davit Zirakashvili
4. Arthur Iturria
5. Sébastien Vahaamahina
6. Damien Chouly (captain)
7. Peceli Yato
8. Fritz Lee


16. John Ulugia
17. Etienne Falgoux
18. Aaron Jarvis
19. Paul Jedrasiak
20. Alexandre Lapandry
21. Ludovic Radosavljevic
22. Patricio Fernandez
23. Damien Penaud

Referee: Nigel Owens [WRU].

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