Blues braced to make grade on second sitting of fierce French exam

Des Berry


Leinster v Clermont-Auvergne,

The Aviva Stadium, TOMORROW


If Leinster thought they had it tough at Stade Marcel Michelin, they will run into a steam-train in Round Four of the Heineken Cup at the resplendent Aviva Stadium tomorrow evening.

Big players require a big stage to give full expression to their powers. Leinster have given up the claustrophobic surrounds of The RDS, a place that throws up the worst kind of memories for Clermont's Brock James.

It was where the assured distributor missed five penalties and three drop goals on his way to losing the place-kicking responsibilities to Morgan Parra in the quarter-final of this competition last season.

The France scrum-half has a mind made out of steel when it comes to dispatching points from all angles. He delivered again last Sunday at a time in his career when he is struggling to find his best form.

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton has talked recently of how it is possible to compartmentalise the unconnected sections of the game. He can kick his goals without playing well; play well without smacking the points.

However, it has been a hallmark of Sexton's rise through the ranks that he has been able to deliver from the ground and in open play in the big games.

Coach Joe Schmidt must have been inwardly satisfied at securing a bonus point in defeat in the isolated Massif Central. This quickly turned to dissatisfaction with news of injuries to key personnel.

It will take much more than one man's inspiration to see off the French champions. The totality of Leinster's squad will be tested to tearing point.

Who will lead? Who will stand up and take them forward? It will all start and end with Sean O'Brien (pictured). The former Irish Youths international has made a reputation out of running over people rather than around them.

The second-row combination provides a font of knowledge on the trigger points of French clubs -- Nathan Hines served his time at Perpignan -- with Leo Cullen determined to steer a shark-through-water forward pack.

The sheer size, power and bulk of Clermont make them more than a handful in union with a wide-reaching attack that swings on the influence of Aurelien Rougerie and a fierce, free-scoring back three full of running.

Confident Leinster are playing to the skills ethic of their coach.

The snow and ice of recent weeks meant the players could not work outside.

They had to stay indoors attending to handling and passing.

What do you know? It was these tenets of the game that almost undid Clermont.

It can be different this time around. They can make more chances and take more too.

Verdict: Leinster