Monday 18 December 2017

Crunch time for Blues - Kearney

Full-back demands focus for back-to-back showdowns as Saints issue revenge warning

Leinster's Rob Kearney
Leinster's Rob Kearney
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LEINSTER are determined to learn from last season's December defeats to Clermont as they prepare to storm Franklin's Gardens today.

The 2012 European champions' three-in-a-row bid came unstuck at this point of last season when they lost home and away to the French side in six days and couldn't recover to qualify for the quarter-final.

Head coach Matt O'Connor has handed the No 10 shirt to Ian Madigan for this evening's difficult away fixture, while Zane Kirchner has to be content with a spot on the bench as Rob Kearney, Dave Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald occupy the back-three slots in an all-Irish XV.

"We've been eyeing up these back-to-back games for a while now," said Rob Kearney. "It's the one area where we suffered last year. It probably cost us progressing in the Heineken Cup.

"It's something we've spoken about. The back-to-back games over Christmas are crucial if you want to progress in the tournament."

Northampton blindside Tom Wood admitted that the 2011 final between the sides, when Leinster came back from 22-6 down at half-time to win, will be at the back of his side's minds this evening.

"I feel we owe them one," the England international said. "I guess we'll keep it in the here and now but if we can draw on a little extra motivation, I'm sure a couple of boys will still be feeling it.

"It's been on my mind a bit. I didn't even play in the game and it hurt me. It doesn't sit particularly well. It's something I'll remember for a long time. I was in the crowd, and I saw it fall apart in front of my eyes."

Munster, meanwhile, have been able to welcome Ireland pair Peter O'Mahony and Conor Murray into their team for their key battle with Perpignan tomorrow. Coach Rob Penney has held BJ Botha and CJ Stander in reserve for the clash, with Stephen Archer and Sean Dougall preferred.

Connacht have recalled John Muldoon for their tough task away to Toulouse tomorrow, while Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar and Jared Payne are back in the Ulster side for their meeting with Treviso at Ravenhill today.

HEINEKEN CUP SPECIAL P73-79

Irish Independent

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