Following a great start to the Champions Cup campaign last week, Leinster are at it again tomorrow with a trip to France to take on Lyon in round 2.
Who is Lyon you say? Well, they’re pretty new to this competition having secured qualification through their Top14 league last season. This ambitious side probably haven’t made much headlines in recent years like some of their other powerhouses in France, but make no mistake, we will not get an easy ride at their home stadium this weekend. Lyon, despite their lack of visible reputation in the Champions Cup, have been in excellent form in the Top14 this season. They are riding high at the top of the table, and have 8 wins from 9 games so far! They have not lost at home this season. So, who is Lyon? Lyon is a major threat and one which Leinster will need to have done a ton of homework on if they want to come out victorious tomorrow. Yes, they lost to Northampton last weekend, but as we all know, these French sides are a much different animal at home.
Leinster has started their European campaign very well by securing maximum points at the RDS against Treviso last weekend. That’s seven wins in a row between the championship and league, I can’t remember when Leinster last had such a great winning streak at the start of the season. A lot of this success has come down to the incredible strength in depth within the squad and the immense quality coming off the Leinster academy production line. The young lads coming into the squad almost come across as ready made veterans of the game, such is how they perform without fear and filled with hunger. That being said, this weekend will see the return of a lot of internationals from World Cup duty, the majority of which will be looking to put in a big shift in an effort to reclaim their starting places within the squad. Cullen mentioned recently that each of these players will need to work hard to get their places back, and I really hope that’s true. The newer recruits deserve big days out in the Champions Cup and games like tomorrow will provide evidence to Cullen of who might need to get behind some of the young lads in the pecking order.
Below is the team selection for tomorrow:
15. Rob Kearney (211)
14. Jordan Larmour (40)
13. Garry Ringrose (66)
12. Robbie Henshaw (38)
11. James Lowe (35)
10. Johnny Sexton (161) CAPTAIN
9. Luke McGrath (115)
1. Cian Healy (210)
2. Rónan Kelleher (8)
3. Tadhg Furlong (102)
4. Scott Fardy (49)
5. James Ryan (32)
6. Rhys Ruddock (163)
7. Josh van der Flier (74)
8. Max Deegan (53)
16. James Tracy (99)
17. Ed Byrne (46)
18. Andrew Porter (55)
19. Devin Toner (237)
20. Josh Murphy (26)
21. Jamison Gibson-Park (77)
22. Ross Byrne (77)
23. Dave Kearney (140)
Noticeable returnees include Rob Kearney and Tadhg Furlong. Kearney had a good World Cup, he really stepped up when needed and proved again how important he is to the national team. Furlong was not at his peak form in Japan, he didn’t necessarily have a bad tournament but his overall explosive talent wasn’t too evident from the time he spent on field. Hopefully this changes tomorrow as we all know what he is capable of. Joining Kearney in the backline is Larmour and Lowe, these two lads will continue to thwart defenses, peak through small gaps and hopefully create scoring opportunities for themselves and/or others around them.
Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose aka HenRose will make up the centre partnership with captain Sexton and Luke Mc Grath taking up the half back positions.
Healy, Kelleher, Furlong! That’s just the front row of the scrum. Pure Leinster beef, that’ll put the fear into what our opposition will put forward. Then throw Scott Fardy, James Ryan and Rhys Ruddock into the mix and you have a formidable pack that in my opinion is unrivaled in the Champions Cup this season. Then of course, you have Josh Van der Flier and Max Deegan who simply make our 1-8 selection downright unfair 😉
On the bench, we have James Tracy making his return to the Champions Cup, and Ed Byrne getting a well deserved nod from Cullen. Andrew Porter is such a powerful player, his try against Treviso last week was amazing, taking on 3-4 defenders on his way to the line with ease. Toner had a great day out last weekend and will be a great addition to the field of play when needed. Josh Murphy has been rewarded with his great performances in the league and Gibson-Park will steady the ruck in place of Mc Grath at some stage. The final two bench options are Ross Byrne and Dave Kearney, two players who have been in excellent form all season. It’s a very strong bench and one which will be highly beneficial to the hope of getting over the line with a win in France.
Where the game will be won
Leinster’s track record in France is not great, we’ve won only one out of our last three trips there; losses came against Toulouse Clermont, and our win was against Montpellier.
The french teams and supporters have created incredible cauldrons where deafening support is launched at the home team from their supporters, and this can be quite daunting for the visiting side. Leinster players and coaches have been talking throughout the week about their track record in France and the mental challenge that they face in front of very passionate French supporters. The team selected for tomorrow are all familiar with this challenge so they will hopefully be able to manage and overcome the pressure better than recent times.
Confidence will need to be high for Leinster to win this game. Sometimes teams get bullied by French teams at home due to the unique environment and atmosphere that’s created. The “16th Man” idea is used as a major weapon by French sides and the teams that overcome that are the ones who front up against it. I would imagine there will be a good Leinster support base heading over too, so their voice will be important. Outside of the occasion and location of the match, a strong 80 minute display will be required on both sides. Leinster are great at sniffing out weakness and building a strong attacking platform off of it, and this weekend I would expect that they will go exploring for opportunities to break down the Lyon defenses will start very early on. As a result, defense will not be the one thing on either side’s mind, attack will be the order of the day. Lyon know that attack attack attack is the only way to overturn Leinster, especially in Europe, I predict they’ll try to pick holes in our defensive structures throughout.
Leinster’s form leading up to this match has been strong, they’ve put out some very solid perforamcens over the last couple of months. I don’t believe they’ve hit their best form just yet but tomorrow will be a good opportunity for them to lay down a huge marker in Europe by handing out Lyon’s first defeat at home this season and toppling the Top14 leaders. My cheeky prediction is that Kelleher will continue his fine form by scoring a first half try, adding to his 7th try of the season!
Lyon 15 – Leinster 30
Match Day Result: Lyon 6 – Leinster 13