Cian Healy leads the team out against Scarlets in Wales. INPHO/Dan Sheridan
win or bust

Heineken Cup: 3 key battles that Leinster need to win to stay alive in Europe

Go big or go home for Joe Schmidt’s men this evening.

20 POINTS DID the job for Ulster last season and 19 was enough for Northampton Saints in 2010 but Montpellier’s 27-6 win over Sale last night has got us all totting up the figures again and hoping for the best.

Leinster have kept a respectful tone this week and have spoken about focusing on first securing a win over Scarlets before looking for any extras.

Joe Schmidt must surely know, however, that their title defence could be over by 8pm in his side can not conjure four tries against the Welsh visitors.

Here are three battles that should prove crucial at the RDS:

Wing it

They might have played a combined total of 63 minutes in the past month but we would take Leinster’s wing combination of Isa Nacewa and Luke Fitzgerald over Scarlets’ Andy Fenby and Kristian Phillips and day of the week.

Schmidt remarked during the week that he did not require a heart-to-heart with Nacewa this week to know he was ready for another crucial fortnight of Heineken Cup action – the New Zealander was running rings around his teammates in training.

Fenby is a decent attacking threat and pounced on a Felix Jones spill to snatch Scarlets a win away to Munster but Fitzgerald, now with a game under his belt, should have the better of him. If the Leinster backline start gunning accurate passes, Nacewa and Fitzgerald can exploit the space out wide to make beelines for the promised land.

In Jenno we trust

Sean O’Brien produced a man-of-the-match performance away to Edinburgh last week and has shown a willingness to pin the ears back and charge – something that was lacking last season as he was converted into an openside for the international cause.

He misses out this weekend but the indefatigable Shane Jennings will not let the side down.

Rob McCusker and Josh Turnbull are decent operators in the back row but Jennings will pitch his sizeable frame into the breakdown mix in an attempt to free up Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Heaslip for some ball carries and fend-offs to make the eyes water.

As Hedley Lamarr said in Blazing Saddles, “Now you do that voodoo that you do so well.”

YouTube credit: stewielips

Empty the bench

The return of Leinster’s marquee players means Joe Schmidt can now turn to his bench with clear plans and potential set plays rather than wishful thinking.

True, Scarlets have Matthew Rees and Jonathan Davies in reserve but Leinster can, and almost certainly will, call on Brian O’Driscoll and Eoin Reddan.

The presence of O’Driscoll, and the versatile Ian Madigan, on the bench means the Blues’ backs can be rejigged if attacking lines are being stultified.

One thing is for sure, O’Driscoll’s return to the RDS pitch for the first time since October will send passionate and hopeful reverberations around the ground.

The inspirational centre scored the crucial fourth try against Bath in 2006 and few would rule out similar heroics, if required, this evening.

Heineken Cup cheat sheet: Your guide to the weekend’s action

Explainer: What the Irish provinces need to do to reach Heineken Cup 1/4 finals

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