Preview: Leinster v Bath

Date published: April 3 2015

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The European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-finals kick-off in Dublin on Saturday when Leinster face Bath in what should be a thrilling match.

Both like to play an entertaining style but have dipped in form slightly during the recent Six Nations. However, with their internationals all back in provincial and club colours this weekend, expect a Test match feel to this game as a spot in the semi-finals goes on the line.

Saturday's hosts know they face a strong English side which possesses plenty of talent but wouldn't it be just Leinster to put their Pro12 troubles to one side and give a special performance on the European stage. A semi-final against either Toulon or Wasps away is their carrot.

Working in their favour is the fact they have won four of their last five quarter-finals in Europe's top-tier club competition while they have lost just two of their last 12 knockout games and won the last four against English teams. Bath, in contrast, have lost their last seven clashes with Irish provinces but will be buoyed by the fact they have won nine of their last ten games on the road in European competition.

Of course the form of the competition's leading points scorer Ian Madigan will be key to Leinster while George Ford must be equally deadly off the tee if Bath are to mount a serious challenge in Dublin. What's intriguing though is that Bath have a ten percent better strike rate.

Madigan starts at inside centre with Ben Te'o outside him this week. In the half-backs Jimmy Gopperth is fly-half while Isaac Boss comes in from the start having scored two tries when introduced last week. 

Jamie Heaslip will lead the side as he closes in on his 200th cap for the province. Saturday's game will be his 198th appearance in blue. 

There are nine changes in total from the team that drew 34-34 with the Glasgow Warriors in last Friday's Pro12 with three of those changes in the backs. Leinster welcome back all of their Six Nations winning players including Rob Kearney who returns at full-back.

Fergus McFadden, who scored Leinster's first try last Friday and also scored against Wasps last time out in Europe, continues on the right wing with Luke Fitzgerald coming onto the left wing. 

There are six changes in the pack with a new front-row of Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross starting and Devin Toner coming into the second-row alongside Mike McCarthy.

Jordi Murphy retains his place at blindside flanker, while at openside Sean O'Brien makes his first appearance for Leinster since the opening day fixture away to Glasgow.

Meanwhile, five international players return to the Bath starting line-up as Dave Attwood, Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson are back from England duty while Wales' Paul James has recovered from a thumb injury suffered in the win against France to take his place in the XV.

James starts at loosehead prop and is joined in the front-row by hooker Rob Webber and tighthead prop Kane Palma-Newport. Attwood is named alongside captain Stuart Hooper in the second-row.

The back-row features blindside Carl Fearns, openside Francois Louw and number eight Leroy Houston (who last week bagged a brace of tries against London Welsh). In the half-backs, scrum-half Micky Young partners fly-half Ford, the 2015 Six Nations Championship's top points scorer.

The top try scorer in this year's Six Nations, outside centre Joseph, is paired in the midfield with inside centre Kyle Eastmond for the first time since Bath's quarter-final-clinching victory against Glasgow Warriors in late January. Full-back Watson anchors a back three containing wings Horacio Agulla and Matt Banahan.

Ones to watch:

For Leinster: The former European champions have sorely missed the power and experience of Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy this season in the Pro12. However, all three forwards are now back from injury and looked impressive during the latter stages of Ireland's recent Six Nations triumph and their effectiveness with ball in hand will be vital in Dublin against a strong Bath pack.

For Bath: Both have been influential for club and country this season and return to Bath duty this Saturday at fly-half and outside centre respectively. We are of course talking about George Ford and Jonathan Joseph, who are rested and fit for Champions Cup action. Their combination could cause Leinster a few problems in midfield while look out for the power of Francois Louw on the flank.

Head-to-head: The Six Nations similarities continue in our one-on-one scrap as we lick our lips at the prospect of Rob Kearney taking on Anthony Watson. Both were in excellent form for Ireland and England respectively during February and March but must slip straight back into club duty with no rust after their break. Kearney and Watson are lethal runners so their battle should be a great watch.

Prediction: Bath have the tools to get the job done in Dublin but we feel the returns of Leinster's internationals outweights that of their visitors. Up front the Irish might just have the edge in terms of four world class props so we're backing them. Leinster by 3!

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Ben Te'o, 12 Ian Madigan, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Gordon D'Arcy, 23 Zane Kirchner.

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Carl Fearns, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 Kane Palma-Newport, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Matt Garvey, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Sam Burgess, 23 Tom Homer.

Date: Saturday, April 4
Kick-off: 15:15 local
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant referees: Christophe Berdos (France), Patrick Pechambert (France)
TMO: Eric Gauzins (France)

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