French visitors gunning for revenge in do-or-die clash
REVENGE for last season's semi-final loss is on the minds of the Clermont players as they seek to humble mighty European champions Leinster this afternoon.
The French side have thrown down the gauntlet to Leinster and the 50,000 supporters who will pack into the Aviva Stadium for today's eagerly awaited Heineken Cup rematch, with international back-row Julien Bonnaire promising an ultra-physical approach to the game.
"We have a chance to gain revenge for the semi-final loss last year," said Bonnaire.
"This game will have the aggressiveness of last week's, probably more so. Leinster still need to win to stay in the competition. As do we. They are not European champions for nothing. The battle will be fierce, but this is a chance for us to right the wrongs of last time."
Today's game also sees Clermont coach Vern Cotter go head-to-head with his former right-hand man in Joe Schmidt, described by former England international Will Greenwood as "the best backs coach on the planet."
Cotter is looking forward to another titanic battle between the two sides.
"Last week's game was one of the hardest games I've been involved in since I came here in 2006," said Cotter. "What commitment from start to finish! It looked like two great boxers slugging it out."
Last season's semi-final win by Leinster in Bordeaux was the hardest of all for Clermont to stomach and a chance to avenge that defeat is what has sustained them until this moment.
And Bonnaire has promised a more efficient Clermont side will take to the field in Dublin this afternoon and they are banking on that and their physicality being enough to see off the defending champions. "We will take the positives from last week's win and, with some more efficiency, we will create chances to win," he added.
Meanwhile, Munster have been dealt an eleventh-hour hammer blow after Keith Earls failed a fitness test ahead of their win-or-bust clash in Vicarage Road. Earls completed a training session in Cork yesterday morning, but reported some discomfort in the aftermath.
That forced coach Rob Penney to parachute big summer signing Casey Laulala into his midfield in the only change to the side that won last week's reverse fixture 15-9.
However, there was better news for Munster after Simon Zebo, BJ Botha and Dave O'Callaghan all passed their tests as the two-time champions seek to wrest control of Pool 1.
Saracens' former Ulster coach Mark McCall has rung the changes, dumping Charlie Hodgson in preference for Owen Farrell at out-half, despite the latter missing four shots at goal last weekend.