Leinster must find elusive try-scoring touch against Castres

Failure to secure a bonus-point victory will make topping their pool very difficult

It’s hard to escape the notion that Madigan isn’t fully trusted to manage a game while Gopperth’s place-kicking can be a little bit ropey at times and so both are accommodated. It’s seems a trifle unfair to both players. Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Statistics are the lampposts of sporting analysis serving to illuminate or lean on and are often exhibited by the creator in the same manner that proud parents showcase gifted children to impress an audience.

These are appropriated but here goes. Leinster are tournament leaders when it comes to the most passes completed (600) and the most rucks won (388), while also finding themselves the most tackled team (570). The intelligence gleaned can appear limited because it requires some contextualisation like establishing a relationship between the numbers listed above and a correlation to line-breaks, defenders beaten or metres made.

There is less ambiguity in one category. Leinster have scored four tries in four matches to date; this evening they have to score four in one game because without a bonus point to supplement any victory at the RDS, the Irish province will feel a little naked in their ambition of trying to top the pool when they face Wasps in the Ricoh Arena in Coventry next week.

Castres Olympique, submerged at the foot of the pool with a single point and no victories, have scored six tries. As an aside four of those have come from frontrow forwards so no prizes for guessing where they'll be at their most dangerous. The home side will look to steer clear of set-pieces within 10 metres of their line.


Three of Leinster's four tries, came in the victory over Wasps on the opening weekend of the Champions Cup, and on two occasions they came up empty handed, relying exclusively on the boot of Ian Madigan, split evenly between one win and one defeat.


Madigan has landed 20 from 25 place-kicks, scoring 58 points, which represents about three-quarters of the team total. For that alone he is indispensable but it should not deflect from his other qualities.

From a distance there appears a curious dynamic in looking at the roles of Madigan, who is chosen at inside centre, and Jimmy Gopperth, the team's outhalf. It's hard to escape the notion that one isn't fully trusted to manage a game while the other's place-kicking can be a little bit ropey at times and so both are accommodated.

It’s seems a trifle unfair to both players. Gordon D’Arcy loses out and now has a decision to make. He can go quietly into the night or he can try to rediscover the verve and instinct that made him such a brilliant player. He’s never been willing to pander to outside opinion, so don’t expect him to accept it meekly.

Collectively the Leinster players need to appreciate that team patterns, parameters of play are fine but not an excuse to not think on the pitch. They need to react to what’s in front of them and not simply play by rote. Rugby is not chess. This is an issue that can firmly be laid at the foot of those that take the pitch.

Signs of progress

In recent matches there have been flickering signs of progress but it needs greater substance and sustainability than relying on the outstanding contributions of

Luke Fitzgerald

, Jack Conan and fit-again captain,

Jamie Heaslip

, three players who have provided the lion’s share of Leinster’s go-forward ball.

Saturday’s game will again train a spotlight on Leinster’s set-piece. Martin Moore, having proved his fitness last week, is named in the team, Tadhg Furlong is on the bench with Ireland’s Mike Ross omitted from the squad. Leinster’s lineout needs to dial down the number of turnovers.

Zane Kirchner’s absence though injury, while regrettable because of his form, simplifies selection issues. The hosts need to jump out of the blocks to mix a sporting metaphor and play at a high tempo with steely eyed accuracy.

Castres haven’t taken the easy option and travelled with a significantly weakened selection but this is weighed against the fact they have yet to win away this season and on most occasions have conceded points in bucketfuls.

The bookmakers have Leinster as 22 point-favourites but for those who like to delve into the past for clues to the future, the Irish province have never earned a four-try bonus point on Castres’ two previous visits to Dublin. That’s one statistic that must change on Saturday.

LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, L Fitzgerald, I Madigan, D Kearney; J Gopperth, E Reddan; M Bent, S Cronin, M Moore; D Toner, M McCarthy; J Conan, J Murphy, J Heaslip (capt).

Replacements: R Strauss, J Hagan, T Furlong, K Douglas, D Ryan, L McGrath, G D'Arcy, D Fanning. CASTRES OLYMPIQUE: J Dumora; R Martial, T Combezou, R Cabannes (capt), M Garvey; D Kirkpatrick, R Kockott; S Taumoepeau, M-A Rallier, R Herrera; R Gray, C Samson; I Diarra, J Bornman, J Beattie.

Replacements: M Bonello, P Faanunu, B Desroche, Y Montes, P Faasalele, R Tales, R Grosso, A Dupont.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer