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Chabal and Co look to escape Clermont bear pit with Euro hopes intact

LEINSTER's route to the quarter-finals could get even more straightforward this evening as Racing Metro travel to Clermont for a must-win penultimate group clash.

The Parisians host the Irish province this day week and defeat tonight could reduce their interest in that clash significantly. Both French sides are tied on nine points, with Leinster on 14 -- so one big name is likely to be out by the time the final set of fixtures is completed next weekend.

Metro won the October clash between the sides at home, and they would have gone into the final weekend in a position of real potential had they not been stunned by Saracens in the Paris snow last month.

That means they go to the bear pit that is the Stade Marcel Michelin needing a win, something few teams achieve in Clermont.

Despite what was heralded as one of their greatest performances, Leinster only achieved a losing bonus point at the venue in December and that indicates the task that awaits Sebastien Chabal and Co tonight.

Jonathan Wisniewski, drop-goal hero in last week's Top 14 home win over Toulon, misses out through suspension but Juan Martin Hernandez is a more than able deputy.

Former All Black Sione Lauaki returns for the hosts, who also welcome Aurelien Rougerie back into the fold.

Elsewhere, victory for unbeaten Northampton over Edinburgh can ensure a quarter-final place for the Premiership side in Pool 1, while Castres need to beat the struggling Cardiff Blues to keep themselves in with a shout.

England internationals Chris Ashton and Courtney Lawes are out of the Saints side after an attritional derby defeat to Leicester last weekend, but coach Jim Mallinder has plenty of options and the Scots -- who make six changes to their team -- are out of the quarter-final race already.

Irish Independent