Preview: Castres v Leinster

Date published: January 19 2017

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has made three changes to his line-up for their Champions Cup game against Castres at Stade Pierre-Antoine.

The Irish province are already assured of top spot in Pool 4 and a place in the knockouts, but a win on Friday would guarantee a home quarter-final in the Aviva Stadium.

Cullen's three changes in total all come in the pack.

As a result it's as you were in the backs with this season's Champions Cup top try scorer (six tries in five games) Isa Nacewa again captaining the side. Nacewa is also the top points scorer with 75 to his name.

In the number 11 and 14 jerseys once again are Rory O'Loughlin and Adam Byrne with O'Loughlin due to celebrate his 23rd birthday on Saturday.

In the centre Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose will again line out alongside each other, with Luke McGrath and Johnny Sexton completing the backline selection for Cullen. Sexton went past the 500 points mark last weekend against Montpellier in Heineken Cup/Champions Cup rugby.

Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss come in from the start this week to join Tadhg Furlong in the front-row.

There is another change in the second-row with Ross Molony making only his second European start beside Devin Toner. Molony also featured against Castres in Round 1 coming off the bench in the RDS.

The back-row is as you were with three try Heineken Man of the Match from last weekend Jack Conan selected at blindside, Josh van der Flier at openside and Jamie Heaslip at number eight.

Meanwhile, Castres have made four changes to their backline as Pierre Berard, Julien Caminati, Florian Vialelle and Antoine Dupont replace Geoffrey Palis, Horacio Agulla, Robert Ebersohn and Rory Kockott at full-back, right wing, centre, left wing and scrum-half respectively.

Up front it's an all-new front-row with Daniel Kotze at tighthead prop, Brice Mach at hooker and Antoine Tichit starting as the loosehead.

Rodrigo Capo Ortega replaces Loic Jacquet at lock while Steve Mafi is in for Maama Vaipulu at number eight, with the French side still having slim hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Form: Cullen's team have been in ruthless form in Europe this season having racked up four wins from five games, including last Friday's hammering of Montpellier which saw them become the first side to qualify for the knock-out stages. In contrast, Castres' hopes of qualifying took a hefty dent when they lost to Northampton Saints, 28-21 last weekend. Mathematically, the French outfit can still progress but those chances are unlikely given that no side has ever qualified for the knock-out stages with 15 points.

The teams:

Castres: 15 Pierre Berard, 14 Julien Caminati, 13 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 12 Florian Vialelle, 11 David Smith, 10 Julien Dumora, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Steve Mafi, 7 Alexandre Bias, 6 Yannick Caballero, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Victor Moreaux, 3 Daniel Kotze, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Antoine Tichit
Replacements: 16 Jody Jenneker, 17 Mihaita Lazar, 18 Damien Tussac, 19 Loic Jacquet, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Julien Seron, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Thomas Combezou

Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa (c), 14 Adam Byrne, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Rory O’Loughlin, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Jack Conan, 5 Devin Toner, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Dan Leavy, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Rob Kearney

Date: Friday, January 20
Venue: Stade Pierre-Antoine
Kick-off: 20:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley (England), Paul Dix (England)
TMO: David Rose (England)