Clermont v Leinster: Teams
At Stade Chaban-Delmas, Sunday April 29, KO: 3pm, live on Sky Sports 2HD
Last Updated: 27/04/12 4:59pm
Defending Heineken Cup champions Leinster face a huge test in Sunday's semi-final in Bordeaux against star-studded, in-form Clermont Auvergne.
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Leinster to win by 6-10 points - 11/2. See all our markets
After a faultless tournament so far, Leinster are still on track to become only the second club (after Leicester) to win back-to-back titles but facing Clermont in France is the ultimate challenge in European rugby these days.
Clermont can boast a 42-game unbeaten streak at home and although Bordeaux is a three-and-a-half-hour drive west, expect Stade Chaban-Delmas to be awash with yellow and blue jerseys.
As Saracens found out in the quarter-finals, when the Clermont fans find their voice - and they always do - the old cliché of the 16th man in the stands becomes a very real element to deal with.
Indeed the very fact that Leinster must travel to France is worthy of a raised eyebrow. Despite Clermont having lost to Ulster and Leicester in the pool stages while Leinster swept all before them, the luck of the draw means that the Irish side will be the away team when it matters most.
But Joe Schmidt's side will not dwell on the matter. Leinster are unbeaten in their last 13 European matches and have been in devastating form recently having crushed Cardiff in their quarter-final, before beating both of the other semi-finalists - Edinburgh and Ulster - in the PRO12.
What's more, the Dubliners will have invaluable insight into how the Clermont side functions. Schmidt knows Clermont better than most having coached their back-line for three years, including their 2010 Top 14 title-winning campaign.
Perennial underachievers in Europe, Clermont have made claiming their first Heineken Cup crown their number one priority in their centenary season. And so far so good, as they emerged top of arguably the toughest group in the competition and went on to outclass Sarries in the quarter-finals.
With inclement weather forecast, Clermont's display at Vicarage Road - where they didn't dominate possession but were immovable on defence, and executed clinically when opportunities presented themselves - will have Leinster worried. An arm-wrestle is not what the Irish side want, as a hallmark of Vern Cotter's team is their patience and their ability maintain numbers in the defensive line without being sucked into rucks.
Clermont have made three changes to the starting XV that beat Montpellier last week, as French internationals Julien Malzieu and Aurélien Rougerie return while veteran flank Julien Bonnaire comes in for the injured Gerhard Vosloo.
For Leinster, Gordon D'Arcy partners Brian O'Driscoll at centre with Luke Fitzgerald joining Isa Nacewa - who will make his 99th Leinster appearance - and Rob Kearney in the back three. Isaac Boss links up with Jonathan Sexton - who has scored 77 points to date in this year's competition - at half-back.
Prop Cian Healy, who makes his 94th Leinster career appearance and his 36th in Europe, starts in the front-row alongside Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross.
Leo Cullen leads the team and partners All Black Brad Thorn at lock, with Shane Jennings joining fellow Ireland internationals Sean O'Brien and the returning Jamie Heaslip in the back-row.
These teams have faced each other five times with Leinster the winners on four occasions, but the fact that they last tasted Heineken Cup defeat when they went down 20-13 at Clermont last season will not be lost on Cullen and his team-mates.
Clermont: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Elvis Vermeulen, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Lionel Faure
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Daniel Kotze, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Ludovic Radoslavjevic , 22 Regan King, 23 Jean-Marcel Buttin
Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Isa Nacewa, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Isaac Boss, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Sean O'Brien, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Leo Cullen, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Kevin McLaughlin 21 Eoin Reddan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden