Leinster face tricky turnaround
HEINEKEN CUPANY CHANCE Leinster have of claiming an unprecedented third European title in succession will boil down to six days in December where their season is likely to be defined. Yesterday’s fixture list threw up back-to-back meetings with a Clermont Auvergne side hell bent on revenge for their semi-final defeat in April.
Throw in a six-day turnaround against perhaps the most physical side in European rugby and there is plenty to give coach Joe Schmidt cause for concern as he prepares to open Leinster’s defence this autumn.
Both sides have met regularly in this competition in the recent past, with Leinster attracting 45,000 to the Aviva Stadium in 2010 the last time the teams were drawn in the same pool.
Leinster will again choose to play at the Aviva in December, a week after travelling to the Stade Marcel Michelin where they have yet to avoid defeat.
Leinster will open the defence of their title on Saturday, October 13th, with a home tie against the Exeter Chiefs before they take on the Scarlets in Llanelli the following Saturday.
From there, the pivotal meetings with Clermont will have a huge bearing on how the group pans out before the return fixtures with Exeter and the Scarlets – details of which have yet to be confirmed – take place in January.
Rob Penny, the new Munster coach, will get his first taste of European rugby in the Stade de France after Racing Metro-92 took the decision to kick off their campaign at the home of French rugby.
Racing’s sojourns in Europe have yet to bear fruit, and a good start will be imperative for the big-spending Parisians. Penney is well aware that getting Racing first is not ideal from a Munster perspective, but sees the occasion as an ideal “launching pad” for the two-time champions before Edinburgh make the trip to Thomond Park.
“Racing are a magnificent side, they’ve got undoubted potential, and for us to get them early is going to be a real challenge,” he said yesterday. “If they’re up to the task and excited about the opportunity then they will be a handful.
“We’re striking them at home at Stade de France in Paris, so it’s a fantastic rugby venue for the boys to play on and I think it will be a really good launching pad for our European campaign.
“Without doubt the Heineken Cup is obviously where it’s at, in terms of the level of footy the boys can aspire to play outside of international rugby, and I’m really excited about the European championship and that first game at home against Edinburgh.”
Ulster also face French opposition on the opening weekend, Mark Anscombe’s side hosting Castres at Ravenhill, with the December double-header against Northampton set to make or break the province’s campaign.
Connacht couldn’t have hoped for a better start as they meet the new Italian franchise Zebre at the start of October. From there, it is back to the Sportsground for some unfinished business against Harlequins before back-to-back meetings with Biarritz.