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Preview: Castres v Leinster

10th January 2014 11:08

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Castres s Brice Dulin tackled v Leinster

World-class full-back: Brice Dulin

Leinster travel to French champions Castres on Sunday knowing that victory will virtually secure their place in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

The Irish province could even book a place in the playoffs with a game to spare if they win and Northampton fail to come away from Ospreys with a victory.

But the three-time champions could be in for a very difficult afternoon against a Castres team that is unbeaten at their Stade Pierre Antoine fortress in all competitions this season.

The Dubliners will nevertheless fancy their chances, especially if they can produce the kind of away form that saw them put 40 points past Saints at Franklin's Gardens last month.

Just how seriously Castres will take this fixture remains to be seen. Already five points behind pool leaders Leinster and with a tough trip away to Northampton on the menu next week, quarter-final qualification seems like a long shot for les tarnais.

Castre are coming off the back of a dull, try-less 15-9 victory over Bordeaux-Bègles that took them to third in the Top 14 standings while Leinster produced a clinical second-half display to get past Connacht in the Pro12.

Key pair Rory Kockott and Antonie Claassen will be missing for Castres. Both the South African scrum-half and the South African-born France international flanker missed Castres's last Top 14 match against Bordeaux-Begles due to injury. Kockott has a calf problem while Claassen is suffering from a knee injury.

"It's still a bit too soon for them," said Castres coach David Darricarrere.

Former Bok loose forward Pedrie Wannenburg also missed the clash due to a thigh problem as Piula Faasalele starts at number eight.

Full-back Geoffrey Palis, who Monday earned a call-up to the France pre-Six Nations training camp, is out with a dislocated thumb.

Hooker Brice Mach is back from injury and starts in the bench but Mathieu Bonello and wing Romain Martial are not expected to return until the trip to Northampton next weekend.

In total 12 players are retained from the Leinster team that lost to Northampton in December with coach Matt O'Connor making changes at fly-halfand two changes in the back row.

After a strong performance off the bench last weekend against Connacht in the PRO12, Jimmy Gopperth starts at 10. In the back row, Rhys Ruddock has failed to recover from the calf injury suffered in the second half of the game in the Sportsground and as a result Kevin McLaughlin comes back in after a recent lay off with a thumb injury to take his place at 6. The other change sees Jordi Murphy retained at 7, with Shane Jennings on the bench.

Otherwise there is a familiar feel to the Leinster line up with Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald as the back three, Fitzgerald having recovered from the illness that ruled him out of last weekend's game at short notice.

Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll are once again selected in the centre while Gopperth will be joined at scrum-half by Eoin Reddan.

In the pack, it is the same front five as selected in December, with Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Mike Ross in the front row, with Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy packing down behind.

In the back row Jamie Heaslip will captain the side from number eight, with the aforementioned Murphy and McLaughlin beside him.

Sunday's game also marks Rob Kearney's 50th Heineken Cup appearance and as a result he will be awarded an ERC Elite Award. The Louth native will be presented with a specially commissioned ERC cap after the game and joins other Leinster players like Gordon D'Arcy, Leo Cullen, Shane Horgan, Brian O'Driscoll and Malcolm O'Kelly on the list.

Gordon D'Arcy is only five appearances short of 100 Heineken Cup caps and would become the first Leinster player to achieve such a feat.

There was further good news from the Leinster camp with the news that Fergus McFadden has come through training this week unscathed and will be in contention for a place in the squad for the visit of the Ospreys in Round 6 of the Heineken Cup next Friday.

The teams:

Castres: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Remi Grosso, 13 Seremaia Bai, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Max Evans, 10 Remi Tales (capt), 9 Cedric Garcia, 8 Piula Faasalele, 7 Ibrahim Diarra, 6 Mathieu Babillot, 5 Christophe Samson, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Karena Wihongi, 2 Marc-Antoine Rallier, 1 Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16 Brice Mach, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Benjamin Desroche, 19 Yannick Caballero, 20 Julien Tomas, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Marcel Garvey, 23 Anton Peikrishvili.

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Dave Kearney, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Jordi Murphy, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Devin Toner, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Sean Cronin, 1 Jack McGrath.
Replacements: 16 Aardon Dundon, 17 Jack O'Connell, 18 Martin Moore, 19 Leo Cullen, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Zane Kirchner.

Date: Sunday 12th January
Venue: Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres
Kick-off: 13:45 local (12:45 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens

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