Injury-hit Blues call on '16th man' for help

Aoife Anderson

A RECORD number of Leinster rugby fans are hoping that Christmas comes a week early tomorrow.

The Blues take on French champions ASM Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium, and more than 45,000 fans will be out in force to cheer on the home team.

The Saturday teatime match is the crunch game of the Heineken Cup so far, with fans hoping that Leinster exact revenge on their French rivals.

Leinster are slightly battered going into this tie -- Brian O'Driscoll (31) is suffering from a jaw injury and Jamie Heaslip has had his injured ankle on ice all week.


Heaslip, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Wednesday, has been regularly updating his followers about his injury on his Twitter page all week.

He tweeted: "Another day, another day of foot in ice! But all the birthday messages keeping my mind off the coldness. Thanks!"

His low-key birthday celebrations saw him receive a huge present from his sponsors Puma, who sent him a large selection of clothes and runners from its latest sportswear collection.

He has also been keeping himself busy by buying a new bulldog, who he has named after rapper Jay Z, which he will welcome into his home in the coming days.

Meanwhile, O'Driscoll has been keeping a low profile during his recovery and told fans he was back eating solids after his jaw injury forced him onto a liquid diet for a few days.

With a string of high profile players still in doubt, manager Guy Easterby has called on fans to represent a 16th man tomorrow. "I can't reiterate enough how important the crowd will be. We might just need the energy that they bring to get us over the line," he said. "It would be absolutely huge for the province. I don't think we can get across enough how important the crowd has been for the past four or five years. They make it a really special occasion for the Leinster players.

"I can only ask that they dig deep for this game. It is so important for the players that we have the biggest crowd, as vociferous as possible. They are going to be the extra man. They can have a huge effect on the result."

Tomorrow's game will be a record pool attendance for an Irish province. Leinster's previous record in the pool stages was 23,463 in Lansdowne Road against the Cardiff Blues in the 2003/04 season. Ticket sales have been brisk in recent weeks and many more are expected to be snapped up on the day.