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Fever at the Aviva

Knockout phase: 3 key battles Leinster must win to stay in the Heineken Cup

Okay, so Leinster can technically still qualify with a loss today, but it’s not very likely.

Sean O’Brien v Julien Bonnaire

THE SCRUM WENT well for Leinster last week, and it got even better Richardt Strauss was introduced so we reckon Leinster will keep a tight grip on that upper hand.

Strauss’ arrival coincided with a shaky spell at the line-out, however. And on Clermont’s ball Bonnaire claimed throw after throw to kill any momentum being gained by the visitors.

Kevin McLaughlin didn’t train all week and so is only fit enough for a place on the bench. Sean O’Brien, after a terrific performance at openside in France, will not be asked to do as much in the line-out as McLaughlin and so he must match Bonnaire stride for stride, ruck for ruck.

The former French international has been in exemplary form this season, taking the man-of-the-match award in each of the three Heineken Cup outings so far. Limit his influence, and Leinster will be half way there.

Isa Nacewa v Sitiveni Sivivatu

Clermont got a lot of change from lofted Garryowens last week, but only when aimed at Ian Madigan.

Similarly, Leinster took great joy in targeting kicks to Napolioni Nalaga’s wing, so the really tight match-up will again come with the Fijian battle on the other wing.

Of course, there is some irony in calling this a ‘Fijian battle’: Nacewa, born and bred in New Zealand, was famously capped by Fiji thus ruining his chance of becoming an All Black. So he headed for Europe instead. Sivivatu, meanwhile, would win 45 caps for New Zealand only after moving there from Fiji in his teens.

Neither man has lost much of their All Black pedigree, despite necessity pushing Nacewa to the wing and Sivivatu no longer enjoying the slimming black ensemble .

The Aviva Stadium surface will firm underfoot – or an least an improvement from the oft going presented in Stade Michelin – so both sides will look to create open space for their Pacific wingers. Whoever can turn that space into five-point scores will decide the game.

Gordon D’Arcy v Aurélien Rougerie

In the past three weeks, D’Arcy has shown that he has been paying attention in all his years spent alongside Brian O’Driscoll. His performances in the outside channel have been simply flawless, and his experience has allowed a great deal of leeway for Ian Madigan and the incoming Andrew Goodman.

He has some bad memories against the French centre (this surely being the worst), but for the most part he managed to keep him quiet last week. Rougerie is not just the prince of Clermont, he makes the back-line tick. Keep him on the back foot again and Jaune et Bleu will have to be extremely lucky to get more than a losing bonus point.

Prediction: Leinster 24 – 14 Clermont.

As it happened: Biarritz v Connacht, Heineken Cup

Big Mal backs Leinster to ride the storm and hit their targets

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