Leinster venture into the unknown
October 8, 2010
Fly-half Jonny Sexton returns to bolster Leinster © Getty Images
Leinster have the unenviable task of kicking off their Heineken Cup campaign against one of the tournament's unknown quantities on Saturday, taking on French newcomers Racing Metro 92 at the RDS.
The 2009 champions have been in mixed form so far this season, winning two and losing three of their Magners League fixtures, but secured a rousing win over fierce rivals Munster at the Aviva Stadium last weekend.
Racing enter the tournament with plenty of cash behind them and an array of stars, including Pumas fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, but it remains to be seen whether they will greet their Heineken Cup debut with fervour or Gallic indifference.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Fly-half Jonathan Sexton makes his first start of the season, having recovered from a quad injury. He made an impressive cameo against Munster last time out - can he kick on from there?
Leinster - Team News: Sexton will partner Eoin Reddan at half-back, while Gordon D'Arcy partners Brian O'Driscoll in a backline which includes six Ireland internationals as well as Isa Nacewa, who starts on the right wing. Shane Jennings forms an all-Ireland back-row partnership with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, with Devin Toner continuing his second row partnership with Nathan Hines. Captain Leo Cullen remains sidelined by injury.
Racing Metro - Player to Watch: Sebastien Chabal returns to the Racing starting line-up and Europe's biggest stage - packing down at No.8 for Les Franciliens.
Racing Metro - Team News: A knee injury has sidelined fly-half Jonathan Wisniewski with Jerome Fillo taking over the No.10 shirt. Playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez and winger Benjamin Fall are also missing from a backline that does include in-form fullback Frans Steyn.
Key Battle: Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip is set to lead his province's euro charge and his meeting with opposite number Chabal is set to trigger a few tremors around the Irish capital.
Trivia: There are two Leinster record holders in the matchday squad: Brian O'Driscoll is their top try-scorer in Europe with 28, while Shane Horgan is their most capped, with 78 appearances to his name.
Stats: Since the beginning of the tournament Leinster have won 61% of their fixtures against French opposition.
"I think they are a pretty potent team. They possess a massive pack and are going to ask some massive questions of us this week. I guess that's what it's about, you want to measure yourself against the best and these guys are some serious operators." - Leinster forwards coach Jonno Gibbes
"We have just played last season's H-Cup finalists so we are well prepared for our tournament debut. The defeat against Toulouse reminded us that a simple detail can make all the difference and we must learn that lesson ahead of what will be an intense and physical match against Leinster." - Racing coach Pierre Berbizier
Prediction: A timely victory over Munster will have raised spirits and expectation in the Leinster camp but Racing are in-form and determined to make an impression on Europe's biggest stage. An away win to set the tournament alight.
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