Leinster v Exeter – Preview

There’s no rest for the wicked, especially when it comes to the back to back fixtures stage of the Champions Cup. Leinster host Exeter at the Aviva Stadium 6 days after their fiercely physical and hard fought win away last weekend.

The way in which Leinster defeated Exeter last week was very impressive. They deployed a game plan specifically designed to counteract Exeter’s attacking and defensive strengths, something we haven’t seen Leinster do over the last few seasons. It was a bold move but it worked out brilliantly.

Cullen has opted for pretty much the same team selection as last week, the only change is that Van der Flier comes into the team in the place of the injured Ruddock, which means Andrew Porter gets a place on the bench. Below is the full team sheet selected by Cullen:

15. Rob Kearney (189)

14. Fergus McFadden (159)

13. Garry Ringrose (41)

12. Robbie Henshaw (17)

11. Isa Nacewa (176) CAPTAIN

10. Johnny Sexton (140)

9. Luke McGrath (84)

1. Cian Healy (181)

2. Seán Cronin (140)

3. Tadhg Furlong (73)

4. Devin Toner (206)

5. Scott Fardy (9)

6. Seán O’Brien (113)

7. Josh van der Flier (55)

8. Jack Conan (62)

16. James Tracy (52)

17. Jack McGrath (120)

18. Andrew Porter (17)

19. James Ryan (6)

20. Dan Leavy (44)

21. Jamison Gibson-Park (39)

22. Ross Byrne (36)

23. Jordan Larmour (9)

It’s a very strong team again, 20 internationals in the match day squad. It’s great to see (and astonishing) that the team didn’t suffer many injuries following the bruising encounter last weekend. However, with such a short turnaround, it will be interesting to see how fit these lads are tomorrow. Nonetheless, the team sheet speaks volumes in terms of Leinster’s strength and intent in the Champions Cup. Although Exeter will be travelling to Dublin with revenge on their minds, they will find Leinster’s team sheet very tough reading!

Exeter has made a few changes but have mostly moved players either to the bench from last week or visa versa. Their very skilful and highly dangerous winger James Short has been dropped to the bench despite scoring Exeter’s only try last week. It’s a sign that Exeter want to grow into this game and finish strong. Further evidence of this is clear when you see British and Irish Lions Jack Nowell taking Short’s place in the starting lineup.

There are three internationals in Exeter’s match day squad but you cannot underestimate the strength of this team, as evidently displayed in Sandy Park last weekend. You can imagine that they will have focused more on how to break down our defence and retain more ball for this fixture, so ultimately we can expect an improved performance from them.

Where the game will be won.

Last week’s game was a huge arm wrestle and needed cool heads and a very strong will to get over the line. Having to put in dozens of phases to get points on the scoreboard meant that the basic skills and a very focused mentality needed to be sharp from each player that took to the field. These things will be needed once again but I’d say it’ll be a little bit more of a free flowing game as I feel both sides make shake things up a bit. Both teams are going to throw the kitchen sink at this one, both for different reasons. Leinster will want to solidify their place at the top of Pool 3, while Exeter will desperately want to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive with a crucial away win.

As a result, the winning of this game will come down to two things; passion and hunger. Both sides know (and we all know) they have the skills and ability to topple any side in Europe on their day. The only thing that I believe will separate the two teams is their hunger to win, and their passion to keep going at full tilt for the 80 minutes. Fatigue will surely play its part earlier than last week so that mental sharpness and ambition will need to be on point throughout, all 43 players’ character will be truly tested!

Prediction

Like last week, this game will come down to small margins, the accuracy of kicks from tee and from hand, the ability to put in massive numbers of phases, and ensuring that the collective mindset is highly cohesive. Following Leinster’s relentless attack and incredible discipline at Sandy Park, I feel that another season defining and incredible display will be witnessed again at the Aviva Stadium and once more, the Exeter Chiefs will be silenced by a Leinster masterclass.

Leinster 32 – Exeter 20

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