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Jimmy Gopperth has been handed the reigns at out-half.
Jimmy Gopperth has been handed the reigns at out-half.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

3 key battles for Leinster to dominate against Castres

There will be intriguing head-to-heads in the second row, midfield and at out-half tomorrow afternoon.
Jan 11th 2014, 8:52 PM 4,842 4

AFTER WINS FOR Ulster, Connacht and Munster in this weekend’s Heineken Cup action, Leinster will look to make it a European clean sweep by beating Castres in France tomorrow afternoon [12.45pm Irish time].

The Stade Pierre-Antoine is often an unforgiving venue for away teams, with Castres’ record there including just three home league defeats in the last five years. This is the Heineken Cup though, Leinster’s specialty.

Here are three of the vital head-to-heads they must dominate.

Rémi Talès v Jimmy Gopperth

Two different players, and both representative of the game plan each side is likely to employ. Talès has rather surprisingly emerged as an international out-half in the last year, particularly after helping Castres to the Top 14 title last season.

His strengths are in the attacking, playmaking category; slipping passes to his centres, spreading the ball wide, darting into half-gaps himself. Standing at over 6ft 1ins, Talès is robust in contact too, although his commitment in defence is sometimes questionable.

Gopperth, on the other hand, is more forced in those creative areas. He kicks the ball well, organises effectively and goal-kicks powerfully. Matt O’Connor has gone for the Kiwi’s experience and game management for this away tie, but Talès’ spark may be more effective on this occasion.

Richie Gray v Devin Toner

Two line-out specialists, as well as men who are excellent under re-starts. The Scottish international took his time to settle in Castres but is now demonstrating exactly why the club was so eager to bring him to France. As well as his set-piece expertise, Gray offers a ball carrying threat that Toner cannot match.

imageToner’s influence grows all the time. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Alongside Christophe Samson, Gray will attack Sean Cronin’s throw, and Castres have perhaps the most effective defensive line-out in Europe. At maul time they are powerful too, with Gray’s mass and strength making up for his awkward physical dimensions.

Speaking of which, Toner is going about silencing his critics this season, having grown into a key man for his province and proving that he belongs on the international scene too. Gopperth will look for his lock with drop-offs and defensively, Toner will expect to boss that area too.

Rémi Lamerat v Gordon D’Arcy

A product of the youth set-up at Toulouse, Lamerat has had injury struggles over the last three or four years, before finally hitting a streak of good health this season. The result has been superb form at inside centre for Castres, with the 23-year-old starting to fulfill his rich promise.

imageD’Arcy powers clear against Connacht in the Pro12. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Powerful in contact, with the ability to offload, Lamerat is also an intelligent defender. He will need to be at his sharpest to contain the vastly experienced Gordon D’Arcy tomorrow afternoon. 10 years his senior, but enjoying a strong run of form himself, the Leinster centre will be crucial.

A key defensive leader for the province, D’Arcy’s carrying in midfield also helps Leinster onto the front foot and allows them to build momentum. Equally as important at the Stade Pierre-Antoine will be the Wexford man’s calming presence.

Leinster: Rob Kearney; Dave Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy; Kevin McLaughlin, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip (capt)

Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Jack O’Connell, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner.

Castres: Brice Dulin; Remi Grosso, Seremaia Bai, Remi Lamerat, Max Evans; Remi Tales (capt), Cedric Garcia, Yannick Forestier, Marc-Antoine Rallier, Karena Wihongi; Richie Gray, Christophe Samson; Mathieu Babillot, Ibrahim Diarra, Piula Faasalele.

Replacements: Brice Mach, Mihaita Lazar, Anton Peikrishvili, Benjamin Desroche, Yannick Caballero, Julien Tomas, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Marcel Garvey.

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Murray Kinsella


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