Key Clash Preview: Leinster v Leicester

Aviva StadiumDate: 8th April 2011
Kick-off: 18:00 (BST)
Venue: Aviva Stadium

Anglo-Irish relations will be resumed when Leicester make the trip over to the Irish capital, where the Aviva Stadium will host what should be a great spectacle. The utter demolition that occurred when Ireland played England on the last weekend of the Six Nations will be regaled for years to come, but this weekend will provide Leicester’s English contingent a chance to prove that those memories have been consigned to the past. Of course there will be internationals of high regard bred outside of these isles on the pitch, and they will be just as keen to secure a passage through to the Heineken Cup semi-final.

A last-minute Ronan O’Gara penalty sealed a remarkable one-point victory over Leinster last week. To leave Thomond Park as victors is rare, but Leinster will feel that they should have beaten a team who they have enjoyed superiority over in past matches. Expect no consolation to be taken from their losing bonus point, this was a match they should have won. As a result they head into this match with an added focus, if ever one was needed for a match of this scale. Jonathan Sexton was the tormentor in chief when Ireland defeated England, and while this match will undoubtedly take a different turn, Leinster’s Irishmen will know they have a hold on Toby Flood and co. at Leicester.

Richard Cockerill’s charges followed a dominant display at Bath with an equally impressive performance in a tight win over Harlequins. Rather than the attacking flair shown at Bath, this victory was a testament to the Tigers’ resilience and power. The suspension for prop Marcos Ayerza after a nasty headbutt on Harlequins’ Joe Marler robs Cockerill of his first choice loosehead, but elsewhere Leicester will be at full strength. Flood and Ben Youngs have shown no adverse effects from the rollicking Irish display they encountered last month, but with that loss they will head to Dublin on Saturday full aware of the passion and intensity they face.

What to expect
If 19 year old Manu Tuilagi wants experience of the ferocity and intensity provided in the international arena, then at 8pm on Saturday evening he will have as good an idea as you could possibly get from a club game. Expect a fierce contest at the breakdown, where Leicester will be aware that the tackle area is of huge importance to this Leinster side. Behind the pack, Sexton’s looping darts in coherence with his outside men Gordan D’Arcy and the irrepressible Brian O’Driscoll will be a constant threat for Leicester, where Anthony Allen and Manu Tuilagi offer much, if relatively little in experience. These teams contested the final in 2009 and that day saw Leinster take the spoils, a magnanimous team may have written that off as history. But magnanimous Leicester are not. This match will not be for the faint-hearted.

All eyes on:
The Leinster back row is a huge area of strength; Sean O’Brien was a revelation in the Six Nations but the man who will play the pivotal role on Saturday is Jamie Heaslip. Heaslip is strong, powerful and dynamic and his battle against Jordan Crane will be keenly contested.

With the form of Thomas Waldrom, Jordan Crane has had little chance to showcase his credentials to Martin Johnson. Jamie Heaslip is a key player for Leicester and Crane will be tasked with nullifying his threat. The Leicester number 8 will still harbour hopes of a World Cup spot and a strong performance will provide Johnson with a timely reminder of his talent.

Head to Head: Cian Healy vs Dan Cole
It was a minor shock when Richard Cockerill announced that Dan Cole had beaten Martin Castrogiovanni to the role of tighthead in the Leicester scrum. Cole was on the back foot when faced with Healy last time and Leicester cannot afford to be weak at the scrum. Ben Youngs thrives on a solid platform; if Healy can get a nudge on Cole then the Tigers may disintegrate. Castrogiovanni will provide cover on the bench, but the match will be won in the early contests.

Leicester’s performance will be full of the passion you’d usually associate with the Tigers, but Leinster possess the stronger key units. Expect a tense encounter until Leinster’s classy back division help them pull away. Leinster by 10

By Tom James