Two of rugby's long-standing heavyweights clash on Saturday as Heineken Cup holders Leinster tackle European mainstays Biarritz.
Two of rugby's long-standing giants clash at the RDS in Dubin on Saturday as Heineken Cup champions Leinster take on European mainstays Biarritz.
Despite these two heavyweights having been consistently challenging for top honours, they have not met since January 2004 and only faced off on five previous occasions. Leinster, if you believe form counts going so far back, hold the edge with three wins to Biarritz's two ahead of what is an intriguing Challenge Cup clash.
Domestically the Irish province are in a much stronger position than their opponents as they sit second, looking to seal a home semi-final with a win over the Ospreys next Friday. Biarritz's Top 14 season meanwhile is over, with them languishing in 11th, so this is their 2013/14 European ticket.
The subplot of whether this is to be Joe Schmidt's last season in charge of Leinster remains to be seen but a PRO12, Challenge Cup double would be a decent send-off for the coach, whose side was electric against Wasps on April 5. That game separated the men from the boys.
Biarritz were also exceptional, against Gloucester, in their quarter-final, winning 41-31 in a five-try showing at the tough venue that is Kingsholm. That victory was largely down to BO racing out of the blocks, with their 27-14 scoreline at the interval a warning to Leinster that they must avoid a repeat of their early effort at Adams Park when they leaked two tries to the lethal Christian Wade inside fifteen minutes. They'll know Biarritz can hold onto a lead.
Team news sees Leo Cullen lead an experienced line-up in a side which shows a number of changes from the one selected for the bonus-point victory away to Zebre last weekend.
Ian Madigan is at inside centre alongside Brian O'Driscoll, who makes his 83rd European appearance and now lies just four appearances behind second placed Shane Horgan on the all-time provincial list. Regular centre Gordon D'Arcy is ruled out due to a calf strain.
The back-row unit sees Jamie Heaslip partnering fellow Ireland internationals Shane Jennings and Kevin McLaughlin with Heaslip set to make his 163rd appearance (and his 60th in Europe) for the province. Cian Healy and Mike Ross are alongside Richardt Strauss.
Biarritz meanwhile have their two key players, Dimitri Yachvili and Imanol Harinordoqoy in their starting line-up while former Saracens tighthead Ben Broster is recalled to the XV.
Players to watch:
For Leinster: Of course this is another opportunity for British and Irish Lions contenders to state their case to head coach Warren Gatland. Brian O'Driscoll seems, if we are to believe the recent press, to have dropped down the pecking order in terms of getting the captaincy but that won't stop him giving everything for Leinster on Saturday. He is a big game player.
For Biarritz: He was impressive against Gloucester in the quarter-final and has a knack of stepping up on the European stage when BO needs him to. Dimitri Yachvili is the man we're talking about as his kicking and game management could have a big say in Dublin.
Head-to-head: Playing Ian Madigan at inside centre will be interesting and he comes up against a French international who has experience galore in the shape of Damien Traille. Madigan was a stand-out against Wasps in the quarters and remains a Lions bolter.
Prediction: This result should go the Irish side's way. Leinster by 8!
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Ian Madigan, 11 Isa Nacewa, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 John Cooney, 22 Andrew Goodman, 23 Andrew Conway.
Biarritz: 15 Marcelo Bosch, 14 Taku Ngwenya, 13 BenoÃ®t Baby, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Raphael Lakafia, 6 Thibault Dubarry, 5 Pelu Taele, 4 Erik Lund, 3 Ben Broster, 2 Arnaud Heguy, 1 Thomas Synaeghel.
Replacements: 16 Benoit August, 17 EugÃ¨ne Van Staden, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Wenceslas Lauret, 20 Mathias Marie, 21 Yann Lesgourgues, 22 SeremaÃ¯a Burotu, 23 Teddy Thomas.
Date: Saturday, April 27
Kick-off: 14:30 BST
Venue: RDS, Dublin
Referee: Wayne Barnes (Eng)
Assistant referees: Greg Garner (Eng); Paul Dix (Eng)
TMO: Geoff Warren (Eng)
Citing Commissioner: Ray Wilton (Wal)