Leinster v Lyon, RDS, Sunday, 1pm - Live on BT Sport
Lyon’s intentions, in as much as they can be gleaned from team selection, appear reasonably clear when it comes to this round five Champions Cup pool encounter at the RDS. Retaining five of the starting team that won away to Agen in the Top 14 last weekend and just six of side that began their home game against Leinster in October, they have travelled in hope rather than expectation. The chances are it won’t be better.
Leinster are 1/200 favourites and the handicap is 40 points, the bookmakers casting a professional eye over a Lyon matchday squad that doesn't contain, former All Black centre Charlie Ngatai who caused the Irish province problems in the first game, ex-Wallaby flanker Liam Gill, Argentinian outhalf Pato Fernandez and French internationals Pierre-Louis Barassi, Xavier Chiocci, Demba Bamba and Baptiste Couilloud, to highlight a handful.
Only former Under-20 World Cup-winning flanker Killian Geraci of the three Lyon players named in new France coach Fabien Galthié's first national training panel is included; Bamba and flanker Dylan Cretin will not tog out. Ball-carrying behemoth Carl Fearns is another absentee, while Fijian whizz Josua Tuisova starts on the bench. Jean-Marcellin Buttin, a fullback-cum-wing and a France international, is named at outhalf.
Lyon's head coach Pierre Mignoni has signalled his intent – Lyon are second in the Top 14 and have understandably, given their results to date in Europe, prioritised that tournament – by including former Sharks and Brumbies lock Etienne Oosthuizen in the backrow.
The French side will look to dominate up front, retain possession and work their hosts over physically before even considering releasing players of the ilk of the Fijian-born, France wing Noa Nakaitaci. They will want a structure to the game, slow and measured.
In contrast, Leinster will pursue a high tempo, something they were not able to achieve in Lyon, and have retained 11 of that starting team. Leo Cullen is without James Ryan (calf) – he should be available for the game against Benetton on Saturday week – while Max Deegan's consistently excellent form has been rewarded with the number eight jersey. Caelan Doris, who didn't train at the start of the week, is on the bench.
Leinster’s focus, apart from the usual due diligence in scouting the opposition, has been firmly directed on living up to their standards. Cullen explained: “For us, in these weeks, it’s about getting out own bits in order and make sure we deliver a performance for the people that turn up to watch us, that they want to be part of it and they want to come back and see us again.
“That’s what we talk about all the time here, to make sure we bring the level of intensity that is required of Leinster playing at home at the RDS. We will see how that serves us.”
The players have been reminded of the constituent parts of the performance required to ensure their success. Cullen elaborated: “In terms of possession, it’s just being accurate when we have the ball, that we don’t get sloppy in our behaviour, that we are not forcing passes, not getting impatient and trying to make something magical happen.
“[It’s about] not allowing them access around the ruck where they have some good, strong, physical players that like to go aggressively at that area and also not being too passive defensively.” He used the example of the Connacht game, in the second half Leinster allowed the visitors to recycle ball, ad nauseam. He did not want his side slipping into a mindset of just containing Lyon.
“We can be a bit more aggressive in terms of our defence, making sure that we try to get the ball back off teams.”
Cullen confirmed that the coaches and players had discussed the importance of continuing the push towards a number one seeding in the tournament after the pool stages. “Statistically there is a better chance of winning a quarter-final if you are at home. We want to try and stack the deck in our favour and then there are all sorts of benefits as you go deeper into the tournament.”
The competitive nature of the Leinster environment is a key factor in driving the province’s unbeaten run. Those that wear the jersey on Sunday understand that the highest standards of performance are required to retain it; complacency is anathema to the squad and coaching group. It is that self-propulsion that should ensure that the number one seeding edges ever closer on Sunday afternoon.
LEINSTER: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, T Furlong; S Fardy, D Toner; R Ruddock (capt), J van der Flier, M Deegan.
Replacements: S Cronin, P Dooley, A Porter, R Molony, C Doris, J Gibson-Park, C Frawley, R Kearney.
LYON: T Arnold; X Mignot, E Dumortier, T Regard (capt), N Nakaitaci; J-M Buttin, J Pélissié; H Kaabeche, B Alkhazashvili, F Gómez Kodela; M Roland, H Roodt; K Geraci, E Oosthuizen, V Bruni.
Replacements: J Maurouard, R Chaume, K Yameogo, T Halaifonua, F Lambey, S Hildago-Clyne, J Moura, J Tuisova.
Referee: B Whitehouse (Wales)
Odds: Leinster 1/200, draw 100/1, Lyon 90/1. Handicap: Leinster (-40) 10/11 draw 22/1 Lyon (+40) 10/11
Verdict: Leinster to win