Friday, January 16, 2015

Preview : Leinster v Castres


EUROPEAN RUGBY CHAMPIONS' CUP FORMAT RULES

2. (c) If ranking remains unresolved and/or if clubs have not played each other previously in the pool stage, ranking will be determined as follows:
(i) the best aggregate points difference from the pool stage; or
(ii) if equal, the number of tries scored in the pool stage; or
(iii) if equal, the club with the fewest number of players suspended for incidents in the pool stage; or 
(iv) if equal, by drawing lots.

RANKTEAM (pool number)PLDPTS PD
1TOULOUSE (4)41620
2NORTHAMPTON (5)415109
3CLÉRMONT (1)41439
4TOULON (3)41331
5HARLEQUINS (2)41328
6RACING MÉTRO (5)41429
7SARACENS (1)41313
8LEINSTER (2)4135
9GLASGOW (4)41018
10SCARLETS (3)48-4
11WASPS (2)41230
12BATH (4)41016
13MUNSTER (1)410-2

Apologies for starting my preview with rules and stats but for me they play a big part in how Leinster need to approach Saturday's match.

First, I have highlighted a slight change to the rules from what we were used to in the Heineken Cup....instead of tries scored it is now points difference which provides the first tiebreaker if head-to-head record isn't a factor.  And since having identical points difference is relatively rare, I doubt it would ever actually get to tries scored.

Now of course I know the best way to score a bucketload of points is to score a bucketload of tries, but I still think the distinction needs to be made...for one thing, the extra two with each try would come in handy - for another, if Leinster win a kickable penalty around the 79:40 and have the try bonus in the bag, it wouldn't be the craziest thing to take the three.

Think I'm getting ahead of myself talking about a Leinster victory?  Maybe I am tempting the rugby gods a little bit.  Having said that, with the HCup 2.0 now that much more of an elite competition, if you are to reach the final eight, you surely must first believe that you can.

And even with all the negativity that has surrounded the 2014/15 version of Leinster (some of it initiated by me I freely admit), I firmly believe that we have the capability of getting out of our pool at the very least and no, I wouldn't rule out the Valhalla of a home quarterfinal either.

Don't worry...I will get to the match preview...but I feel mindset is an integral part of our preparation.

Naturally, we have to win our two remaining matches to have a hope of getting out of the pool.  And we definitely will need a try bonus in at least one of those, so you'd assume that would be more achievable this Saturday given we are at home.

But when you look at the current state of the five pools, you see that only one team has a 100% record, and that team, Toulouse, has yet to register a try bonus.  So 16pts is a low enough total to be leading with going into round 5 and although we're ranked 8th, we're still only 3pts behind them as things stand.  Also it means we can't just worry about our own try total; we must also be mindful of scores going in at the other end.

Add to the above the fact that of the other teams ahead of us, Northampton are still to play Racing Métro and Clérmont are still to play Saracens - so they are destined to take points off each other.

This means while the head-to-head advantage may have been lost to Harlequins last December, there is certainly a lot for us to play for over the coming weeks.

Now...how do we set about getting those two wins?  Well, one match at a time of course, and first up a Castres side to which you'd be kind in describing as "struggling".

They were positively awful against Stade last Friday in pretty much every area of the pitch.  Of course, that could encourage them to rally this week, and in selecting the likes of Kockott, Beattie and Diarra it shows that they haven't given up hope of getting something from their visit to Dublin.

On our side of things, when I look at this Leinster lineup I need to take everything I have said all season about preferring Ian Madigan at 10 and bury it deep in the back of my subconsciousness, because those thoughts only lead to negativity and we can't be going with any of that this Saturday.

The only real downside to Jimmy Gopperth's game in Cardiff last week was his place-kicking (to be fair in strong winds) and the "Mad-Dog" can relieve him of that burden.  And a full-test-level-standard back-line around him, he has plenty at his disposal to find and exploit space.

Then we have the pack...they've been calling Jamie Heaslip "Wolverine" due to his recovery time from injury and I have a feeling that nickname is going to stick.  With Cronin and Conan able to pick up the ball-carrying slack left by the absence of Church and Seanie, our skipper can get stuck in at the breakdown to negate the threats offered by Beattie, Diarra and eventually Fa'asalele off the bench (he was a rare positive from their hammering in Paris).

Set-pieces were where Castres really got dominated in Paris, and although this has been an area where we ourselves have struggled this season, there have been improvements in recent weeks it must be said.  Of course it's great to see Marty Moore back starting and we certainly need him back to full fitness though Furlong on the bench is is a more than able replacement.

For me, our task is relatively simple to define.  Win our own ball at set-pieces, and most importantly, be willing to offload in the tackle.  That last point cannot be stressed enough.

If we play what has become our usual "grinding down" game hoping to tire them out in the latter stages it could turn around to bite us.  Even in the midst of their tonking last week Castres did have a purple patch of sorts early in the second half and if even a losing bonus point is within their reach going into the final half hour they will be motivated to go for it.

They need to be put away early on Saturday, and I don't believe that stubbornly hoping that 20 or so phases before every try will wear them down later is the way to go when you have a points difference column that badly needs padding.

The bookies have us as 22-point favourites.  We need to win by about 42.  I doubt we'll do that, but I'm still being positive and I reckon around 30 is doable with the right approach.  That would certainly bring us closer to the clubs around us and give us something to really go for in Coventry next week.

As fans, we naturally need to make the most of our home advantage.  Wear as much blue as you can, shout as loud as you can, let the lads know you believe as much as you can.   Bring it on!  #COYBIB JLP

CASTRES : 15. Julien Dumora; 14. Romain Martial, 13. Thomas Combezou, 12. Romain Cabannes (c), 11. Marcel Garvey; 10. Daniel Kirkpatrick, 9. Rory Kockott; 
1. Saimone Taumoepeau, 2. Marc-Antoine Rallier, 3. Ramiro Herrera, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Christophe Samson, 6. Ibrahim Diarra, 7. Jannie Bornman, 8. Johnnie Beattie
16. Mathieu Bonello, 17. Paea Faanunu, 18. Benjamin Desroche, 19. Yohan Montes, 20. Piula Faasalele, 21. Remi Tales, 22. Remi Grosso, 23. Antoine Dupont

European Rugby Champions’ Cup Round 5
Saturday 17th January 2015, KO 17:30
Live on Sky Sports
RDS Arena , Dublin
REF : Marius Mitrea (Ita)
AR1 : Matteo Liperini (Ita)
AR2 : Stefano Penne (Ita)
TMO : Mauro Dordolo (Ita)
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