Leinster looking for redemption in the Amlin Challenge Cup

Despite the absence of their long term centre pairing of Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy due to injury, if Leinster play to their best against Stade Francais on Friday night at the RDS their will surely become the Amlin Challenge Cup semi finals.

Such was the manner in which they tore into Biarritz in the semi final that it seems almost impossible to envisage any other outcome. That performance confirmed to many what they had previously felt a little weary of saying; that at their best Leinster are probably the second best side in Europe this season. Unfortunately the best side in Europe, Clermont Auvergne, were in their Heineken Cup pool, consigning the Irishmen to Europe’s second tier.

The 2009, ’11 and ’12 Heineken Cup Champions are proven winners whilst Stade are a side that have flattered to deceive more often than not.

However, the Parisians ought not to be written off. Their passionate and calculated performance against Perpignan in their semi final was a performance that we do not often associate with the pink shirted Frenchmen and certainly caught James Hook and co off guard.

With Leinster missing their two star centres, and with Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Leo Cullen all only on the bench, it is far from impossible that Stade could do the same to them, remember Leinster have a Rabo Direct Pro 12 final next weekend that will also be in the back of their minds, not to mention a certain trip to Australia for six of their playing staff.

Talismen

Of course, one cannot write about Stade Francais without mentioning a certain Italian number eight. Sergio Parisse’s one man crusade against all opposition is not confined just to his sojourns in an Italian shirt, no, if anyone saw that performance against Perpignan they would have seen Parisse, as ever, leading from the front, oozing with passion – Leinster will have to combat him.

Leinster’s regular talisman, Brian O’Driscoll, is kept on the sidelines by a back spasm sustained against Glasgow but they will be buoyed by the news today that he signed a one-year extension to his contract, despite expectations that he would retire.

Of more immediate to importance to the team for this match though the return of 2011 European player of the year, Sean O’Brien. O’Brien’s ability to break the gainline and draw in defenders will be vital in combating Parisse, get him working hard and on the back foot and the Italian’s ability to influence the game will be reduced.

Point to Prove

For Stade this is their last chance to qualify for the Heineken Cup. After finishing tenth in the Top 14 they must win this game to qualify, and for a side with the ambitions of Stade qualification is an absolute must.

Their relative lack of success on the pitch has drawn an awful lot of criticism because of the image they portray so victory in the Amlin would go some way to compensating for that.

Leinster themselves have a bit of a point to prove too, having being dumped out of the Heineken Cup after winning it in three of the last four years, they want to show that this year was just a blip and there is no better way than winning a trophy to show it, particularly if they back it up with the Pro 12 next week.

Verdict:

Leinster by 10-15 points.

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