One of the ties of Round Six comes from the Ricoh Arena where Wasps take on Leinster for top spot in Pool 2 of the European Rugby Champions Cup.
There are only two changes to the side that beat Harlequins at the Stoop last Saturday, with James Gaskell starting in the second-row in place of Kearnan Myall, who picked up a bump last weekend but is fit to come off the bench.
Ben Jacobs starts in the centre alongside Elliot Daly, after Alapati Leiua injured his knee against Harlequins. Daly, who is set to make his 100th appearance for Wasps, will again be back-up scrum-half, as all other nines at the club are out through injury. Two back-rows are named on the bench in Ed Jackson and Guy Thompson.
“It doesn’t get much more exciting than this in club rugby – a knock-out game against one of the most successful sides in Europe for a place in the European quarter finals,” said director of rugby Dai Young.
“It’s the biggest game of our season so far and with over 22,000 expected at the Ricoh Arena tomorrow, it’s set to be a fantastic occasion for everyone involved; players, coaches, staff and supporters.
“We have had incredible attendances since moving to the Ricoh Arena and such a vocal crowd makes a huge difference to the squad. We feel a responsibility to keep our performances on the field up to standard, to match the support we are receiving off the field.
“Having lost our first two European pool games, few people would have predicted Wasps being in a position to qualify for the quarter finals, but that’s the opportunity ahead of us, after the players showed tremendous character and will to win against Harlequins at the Stoop.
“It will undoubtedly be the greatest challenge of our season to date, against a quality team which is full of internationals who are experienced at this level, having been crowned European Champions three times.
“We are very respectful of what Leinster Rugby have achieved, but we also know it’s a one-off, winner-takes-all game, with a place in the European Quarter Finals at stake.
“Tomorrow’s game will be as close as you get to Test Match rugby at club level. It’s a huge opportunity for players to show everyone they can compete on the big stage. There is no shortage of motivation and you can be sure that nothing will be left out on the pitch.”
Meanwhile, Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor has made three changes in personnel for the trip to the Ricoh Arena.
Two of those changes are in the starting XV with one change on the replacements bench.
As expected captain Jamie Heaslip has been declared fit to lead the side having been withdrawn early in the second half against Castres last weekend and does so from the base of the scrum.
As announced earlier this week the game came a fraction too early for Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy, with the next home game against the Dragons on February 15 penciled in as their return date for Leinster. This is also the case for Zane Kirchner and Rhys Ruddock.
There is no change in the front-row with Michael Bent, named in Joe Schmidt’s Six Nations squad on Thursday, again selected at loosehead beside try scorers from last weekend Sean Cronin at hooker and Marty Moore at tighthead.
Devin Toner plays in his 40th European game tomorrow with Kane Douglas in to partner him and Mike McCarthy starting from the bench. The second change sees Dominic Ryan selected at blindside flanker and Jack Conan among the replacements. On the openside Jordi Murphy starts his fifth game in a row having returned in November from shoulder surgery.
In the backs, it is as you were with Rob Kearney selected at full-back, Fergus McFadden starts his second Champions Cup game of the year on the right wing and Dave Kearney, the first try scorer last weekend, on the left wing. Ian Madigan, who kicked seven from eight kicks last weekend, and Luke Fitzgerald continue their centre partnership, while in the half-backs Eoin Reddan and Jimmy Gopperth again start. The final change is on the bench and sees Isaac Boss come in for Luke McGrath.
Form: Leinster thrashed Castres 50-8 in Dublin last week and the Irish team’s only defeat in their last eight Pro12 fixtures came against Munster in Limerick on Boxing Day. Wasps won 23-3 away to Harlequins in Round Five, but were beaten 39-26 by Bath in the Premiership a week earlier. In their last home game, Wasps hammered Sale 41-16. The home side has triumphed in all four meetings between these two clubs. However, Leinster defeated Wasps 48-28 at Adams Park in the 2013 Challenge Cup quarter-final on their way to lifting the trophy. Wasps have a perfect record of six home wins against Irish opposition in Europe’s top flight.
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Ben Jacobs, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell (c), 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Edd Shervington, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Ed Jackson, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Andrea Masi.
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Fergus McFadden, 13 Luke Fitzgerald, 12 Ian Madigan, 11 Dave Kearney, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Dominic Ryan, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Marty Moore, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Michael Bent.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Jamie Hagan, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Gordon D’Arcy, 23 Darragh Fanning.
Date: Saturday, 24 January
Venue: Ricoh Arena
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT