Tuesday 28 March 2017

Hooker Paulo confident Clermont can silence hostile home crowd

Hugh Farrelly

WITH ticket sales heading towards the 45,000 mark for Saturday's return match with Clermont, Lansdowne Road is expected to be awash with blue as Leinster fans turn out in force to back their team.

However, Clermont will have a presence in Dublin 4 also, with four planes leaving Clermont-Ferrand airport on Friday, carrying 1,200 supporters to support Aurelien Rougerie and his team-mates.

Although coach Vern Cotter has various injury issues to contend with following Sunday's ultra-physical 20-13 victory, his squad is in a far healthier shape than Leinster's, with Martin Scelzo the only definite non-starter.

The Argentinian tight-head was forced off at the Stade Marcel Michelin with a broken right hand. Scelzo is expected to be out for four-to-six weeks. Cotter, however, has the luxury of turning to Davit Zirakashvili.

The Clermont coach may also opt to start Mario Ledesma at hooker, but Ti'i Paulo will do his utmost to hang on to the No 2 jersey and the Samoan is anticipating an incredible atmosphere in Dublin.

Hostile

"It will be different to the Stade Marcel and a much more hostile atmosphere for us," said Paulo. "But we have got to get beyond that. Last weekend was a very intense match and we really wanted to show our true colours in front of our supporters.

"We know it's not over and it's going to be even more difficult at the end of the week. We're only halfway there and we're getting ready to finish the job."

Clermont dominated the Leinster scrum in their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat at the RDS last season, but found the going a lot tougher this time around with Mike Ross producing a powerful performance on the tight-head side. However, Paulo said they were not surprised by Leinster's strength in this area.

"No, we knew that Leinster's scrum was more competitive than it was in the past. We saw from the videos of the games against Racing and Saracens that they were never really in danger. Sunday's match showed they're solid.

"We also have to make sure that they aren't able to slow us down from releasing the ball like they did last Sunday. We're going to be really focusing on that part of the game."

Paulo knows a Leinster victory puts them in control of Pool 2 and that Clermont will struggle to qualify, but the hooker believes his team can step up to the mark.

"I'm really looking forward to the challenge," said Paulo. "We need a win to stay alive in this pool. We can do it."

Irish Independent

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