Joe Schmidt was forced to make do without three of his leading players for the first meeting between the sides in France last Sunday and that quota of absentees could double after an immensely physical tussle at the Stade Marcel Michelin.
Definitely out, yet again, are the long-term pair of Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald but the news that centre Eoin O’Malley has almost certainly been added to that after fracturing a rib last weekend is a bolt from the blue.
O’Malley was superb at outside-centre in what was his first ever European appearance but the 22-year old has been described as having just a one per cent chance of doubling up against the French champions.
Brian O’Driscoll, for whom he deputised, has also been rated as “highly unlikely to play” as a result of the jaw injury picked up against Argentina with Schmidt estimating his chances as “70-30 against”.
Leinster will wait until Friday before making a decision on their talismanic back and the same will be the case for the man who has come to hold that distinction among the province’s forwards.
“Jamie Heaslip is highly unlikely to play,” said Schmidt. “You all saw on Sunday, we tried to get him through to half-time, but his ankle is badly swollen and he’s hobbling around at the moment and highly unlikely, unfortunately.”
All in all, there was little in the way of good news on the injury front. What little there was concerned flanker Sean O’Brien who delivered a storming performance in the first ‘leg’ despite suffering a succession of bruising injuries.
Suspicions that he was concussed were rejected immediately after the game and Schmidt was happy to add yesterday that there has been no damage to his ribs as was also feared in the aftermath.
The Tullow forward is nursing a stinger as well as the effects of a shoulder to the head but is expected to start in Ballsbridge even if he sat out training yesterday.
A welcome ray of light, then, for the 2009 champions who are rapidly running out of bodies for a game which they simply must win if they wish to top a most difficult European pool.
Schmidt has all sorts of formations rattling around his head at the moment but he spoke yesterday of his wish to make as few changes as possible which would suggest Fergus McFadden moving to 12 and Dave Kearney taking his spot on the wing.
After that, he really is down to the bare bones with, for example, scrum-half Isaac Boss next in line to fill any further gaps on the wing, should they arise.
Heaslip’s likely absence will probably be addressed by switching O’Brien to number eight with Dominic Ryan being promoted into the back row from the bench from where he made such an impact last time out.
Such is the casualty rate right now that the province’s 38-man European squad is down to just 27 as things stand and, though Clermont are also nursing their own injuries this week, their pool is much deeper.
“The luxury (Vern Cotter) has is that he can bring another international or two in if he wants,” said Schmidt who will not have to make plans for prop Martin Szelco after he fractured a bone in his right hand in round three.
“Loic Jacquet might come out and Julien Pierre might start or Gavin Williams might come in and Gonzalo Canale might go out or push out to centre and (Aurelien) Rougerie might go to the wing.
“He has got some fairly luxurious options that can keep us thinking about what he might come up with.”
Cotter has already laid the groundwork for what could be another classic encounter by stating that some of his players had expressed an annoyance at what they perceived to be Leinster’s lack of respect at the breakdown.
Schmidt knows that Cotter’s words were directed more at Clermont than Leinster and expects a “tour de force” from a side that will look to bully their hosts in the physical stakes.
“I know him pretty well. He is a competitor and so am I and if I thought I could get a jab in on him with all the things they do … I would prefer to keep the words less and let the actions of the players speak for themselves.”