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Joe hopeful for Heaslip

The miracle of modern medicine and rehabilitation could be the central plank of Leinster's stunning good fortunate as Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip could both feature from the start in a winner-takes-nearly-all Heineken Cup confrontation with Clermont-Auvergne at The Aviva Stadium this evening.

While O'Driscoll has been given the vital backing of his coach Joe Schmidt, Heaslip has been bracketed with Dominic Ryan in what will be a toss-of-a-coin decision based on whether Ireland's number eight can prove his fitness for combat.

For those interested enough, the mini-drama will be played out in the pre-match warm-up where Heaslip will be put through his paces to test out the strength of what had been a bruised and swollen ankle. His super-human powers of recovery should not be under-estimated.

"At the moment, I am quietly confident he will make it with a little more rest and recovery for the ankle," said Schmidt. He has been given another 30 hours to see if we can get the swelling down and get enough movement in the ankle.

"For two reasons we don't want to put Jamie at risk. We got him to half-time last week. But, he was struggling and we don't want him going onto the field struggling. We will put our faith in the young guys, Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock, the 20-year-old boys".

It is a reflection of how important a part of the Leinster furniture Heaslip has become that Schmidt will wait as long as is practical for this son of a retired army man before the coach declares his hand for battle.

Flanker Ryan is a smash 'em-bash 'em, destructive tackler with bags of pace. In general, he likes to work in straight lines whether lining up a ball carrier or taking the ball on in an approach to the try line based on the shortest distance between points A and B being a straight line.

The simple truth is that the loss of Heaslip would take away a deeply intuitive, experienced footballer with all the power of a canon and all the skills of a technician. He moves forward by one yard or fifty, depending on the space available to him.





MR NICE GUY

Indeed, the Mr. Nice Guy image of Schmidt could be deceptive given how he almost unilaterally ruled out O'Driscoll, Heaslip and Eoin O'Malley (cracked rib) on Tuesday afternoon.

It now seems like two-out-of-three ain't bad.

On the contrary, it is so much better than that. Make no mistake, the Clermont management and players would have taken in a sharp sigh of disbelief to see Leinster's two best men still standing tall and intact.

Leinster hold the sliver of a one point lead over the French champions with another point back to one-paced, powerhouse Racing Metro in what is a most fascinating Pool.

However, the visitors have been less than consistent on their travels within France. It is their away form that has them in the limbo land of seventh place with serious work to bridge the gap to fourth and a Play-Off berth in their domestic championship.

For Leinster, Ireland loose-head Cian Healy will start ahead of Heinke van der Merwe in what is proving, perhaps, to be the most interesting of individual duals for the attention of Schmidt within the squad.

The constant rotation at scrum-half between Eoin Reddan and Isaac Boss continues in a sure sign that Leinster intend to run the visitors right off their feet by ratcheting up the tempo.

Clermont coach Vern Cotter has chosen to make three changes, bringing in the Georgian strongman Davit Zirakishvili at tight-head for Martin Scelzo and second row Julien Pierre for Loic Jacquet in what hints at a brute over brains approach to the set-piece.

"I think that everything is going to be decided at the ruck zone where they made it difficult for us last week," said France flanker Julien Bonnaire.

"We let them do too much in this area. We will have to be more aggressive there and generate quicker ball to exploit them".

In addition, centre Gavin Williams, a strong defender, has been preferred to Italian Gonzalo Canale in an unlike-for-unlike swap inside their captain Aurelien Rougerie, an obvious target for the defensively sound O'Driscoll.

Cotter can draw on the internationally recognised impact of a host of renowned players on their bench from hooker Mario Ledesma back to number eight Elivs Vermeulen and out to centre Benoit Baby.





EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES

It is an embarrassment of riches as Schmidt considers rookie alternatives in hooker Jason Harris-Wright, Ryan or Rhys Ruddock in the back row and David Kearney on the left wing.

The common sense concern must be that the longer Clermont can stay in, or ahead of, the game, the better chance they have of becoming the first French club to beat Leinster at home since Perpignan in the Heineken Cup semi-final of April 2003.

It doesn't bare thinking about.

Leinster: I Nacewa; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), N Hines, S O'Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip/D Ryan.

Clermont-Auvergne: A Floch; N Nalaga, A Rougerie, G Williams, J Malzieu; B James, M Parra; T Domingo, T Paulo, D Zirakashvili, J Pierre, T Privat, J Bonnaire, A Lapandry, S Lauaki.


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