Sizing up top heavyweights

FANS seated close to the touchline in Lansdowne Road tomorrow may wonder if they’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in the National Boxing Arena.

The reason will be the meeting of Leinster wing Shane Horgan and Agen’s Rupeni Caucaunibuca because when these two heavyweights go at it, expect the ground to shake.

The Meathman has enjoyed a stunning run of form for Leinster and Ireland, but in the Fijian he will be meeting a marker who can match him for size and even beat him for pace.

“I don’t think you can build a plan to deal with a player like him,” said Leinster coach Michael Cheika. “He’s a brilliant talent. We just have to be focused on our strategy and deal with him as he comes at us. You can’t go out and say you will double-team or triple-team him because then you forget about the other 14 out there.

“He’s got some size, some pace and some flair so you’ve got to check him out, but he has to keep his eye on Horgan as well. I’m very confident having a player like Horgan marking him. You couldn’t ask for a better player to do the job.”

A blistering talent, ‘Caucau’ missed Agen’s pre-season preparations due to an illness picked up in his native Fiji, but despite losing 27lb at that time he was named man of the match in his first game back this year, the 19-17 win over Edinburgh in the Heineken Cup.

Such are the heights he routinely reaches. Formerly with Super 14 franchise, the Auckland Blues, the 26-year-old’s bulldozing form has been compared to a certain Jonah Lomu in his prime. Overhyped?

“All the great strikers are measured on how many goals they score and Caucau has scored the most tries in France in the last two years,” was Cheika’s assessment.

“So, he can strike and that’s what they’ve got him for. When they tour they definitely tour better as a team when he is there with them. He is a confidence-builder for them, although we have a couple of our own that they’ll have to deal with as well.”

It’s an overdue opportunity for the Irish public to see Caucau in the flesh. He checked out of the Pacific Islanders’ camp prior to the side’s game against Ireland last month to report for duty with his French employers.

Cheika will be comforted by the fact that Horgan has a history of personal successes marking players of his own brawny build, but the Australian is planning a defensive strategy based on more than one opponent.

Agen are particularly adept at recycling turnover ball quickly and spreading it wide to the wings, but their game plan tomorrow will depend largely on whether Francois Gelez or Jerome Miquel are thrust into the pivotal out-half spot.

“We have to look at how the ball gets to Caucau in the first place. We can’t allow turnovers that will bring their back three into play because they play a lot with their back three. They’ve got (Luc) Lafforgue and (Pepito) Elhorga, who is a French international. They are a group of players that are a major attacking weapon and we have to (a) keep the ball away from them and (b) structure our defence right to deal with them.”

Marooned in mid-table in their domestic league, their opening European win against Edinburgh was followed with a bravura display at Kingsholm where they finished 32-26 winners over Gloucester.

Because of those two victories, they approach the game at Lansdowne Road sitting pretty at the top of Pool Two, and Horgan expects the visitors to pull every ace from the pack in order to stay there.

“Agen are really going hell for leather for the European Cup this year. They’ve put a lot of money into the club, and they expect results. They’ll have their strongest team out in Lansdowne.

“They’ve a sprinkling of internationals all over the pitch and we’re expecting a hard game against a side with a very physical pack and very strong backs.”

Leinster showed in Ravenhill last week that they are far from averse to the physical stuff, sharing the points amid almost impossible conditions but returning to Dublin the undoubted moral victors.

“Historically Leinster have had trouble when playing against French teams and that’s something we’ve tried to redress over the last few years,” said Horgan.

“It’s always difficult playing against French teams at home and away, and Agen will be no different in that regard.”

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