Saturday 18 November 2017

When two tribes go to war

Leinster will tackle French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne in Lyon, while Munster aim to take the scalp of Saracens today in Dublin
Leinster will tackle French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne in Lyon, while Munster aim to take the scalp of Saracens today in Dublin

Rory Tevlin

Leinster and Munster will go to war this weekend as they aim to put Irish club rugby back at the sport's top table.

Ireland's two tribes left standing in the Champions Cup take on French and English opposition in what promises to be a feast of rugby.

Leinster will tackle French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne in Lyon, while Munster aim to take the scalp of Saracens today in Dublin.

Tournament organisers have confirmed that both matches have completely sold out.

Ryanair has also laid on two extra flights to ship Leinster fans to Lyon ahead of their clash.

The Red Army will swarm into Dublin today and Munster legend Alan Quinlan said the buzz is different for the men in red in the build-up to a big European game.

He told the Irish Independent: "There was always great excitement about Europe. That's what Munster pride themselves on. They are different weeks for the players and the supporters.

"It's exciting. It is going to be a hard task but it will be a fantastic atmosphere."

He will be cheering his province on at the Aviva Stadium. While he may have hung up his boots, it is occasions like today that bring back memories of his glory days.

"I think you remember the great days, we just loved playing in Europe. Days like today, loads of the ex-players will be there, it will be special," he said.

Munster face a herculean task against reigning champions Saracens. But Quinlan reckons the adversity the Munster men have come through will stand them in good stead when the heat comes on.

He said: "They have been through a traumatic situation, they have gone through a tough time last year too, then with Anthony [Foley] dying," he said.

"But they have been remarkable this year. People expected Munster to slip back a bit but they have shown they have grown as a team."

While Munster are up against it, Leinster possibly face an even more daunting task.

Former Leinster star Kevin McLaughlin knows what it takes to beat Clermont on their turf.

The Dubliner was part of the team that won an incredible semi-final against the French aristocrats in 2012.

He said that playing the match at a neutral venue benefited the Irish side as they did not have to deal with the "bear pit" atmosphere at Clermont's renowned Stade Marcel-Michelin.

"The atmosphere was second to none. We actually went into that game with a lot of confidence," he said.

"Their home ground was an absolute fortress for them. The fact it was Bordeaux helped us out, it was a bit more neutral. There were a lot more Leinster jerseys.

"The Stade Marcel-Michelin was an absolute bear pit, we had played them there in the group stage so in a way we were more confident going into the semi-final."

The 32-year-old said coach Joe Schmidt was Leinster's not-so-secret weapon as he knew Clermont inside out having coached there.

"Joe knew exactly what was going to be required," he said.

"He knew Clermont, he knew their coach Vern Cotter. We squeaked it really."

He said that the young, fearless Leinster players should enjoy the occasion.

"It is going to be hot. It's a huge game. The likes of Dan Leavy, Jack Conan and Joey Carbery are there, it's a huge challenge," he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs has urged travellers to exercise caution following the latest terror attack to strike Paris.

"Intending travellers are encouraged to view our travel advice on the Department's website www.dfa.ie, download our free Smartphone app, TravelWise, and follow us on social media at @dfaTravelWise and @irlembparis to make sure they have access to all relevant updates," a DFA spokesperson said.

Irish Independent

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