In a season marked by injury woes it’s perhaps appropriate that Joe Schmidt should have to deal with more of the same in choosing his lineup for the Amlin final.
Leinster have named a team shorn of both Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy due to injury and have chosen to leave Leo Cullen and Cian Healy on the bench, perhaps with the RaboDirect Pro12 final the following Saturday in mind.
Stade Francais, tonight’s opponents, boast a triumvirate of decorated honorary Irishmen returning to these shores: Paul Warwick, a Heineken Cup winner with Munster, Stan Wright, the Cook Islander who evolved from a who-is-he-again into an essential member of two Heineken Cup winning Leinster teams, and enigmatic genius Felipe Contepomi who did so much to get Leinster that first European title. Both Wright and Warwick will start from the bench while the best Contepomi can hope for is water boy duty as he made his comeback from injury too late to be registered.
In a European final they may well be but Stade have had a poor season to date, outscored by 60 tries to 42 in the Top 14 with a minus 113 points difference. That lowly league finish means that nothing less than a win will do if Stade are to gain entry to the 2013-14 Heineken Cup.
But they’ve had time to rest up for tonight and since their semi-final win in Perpignan, the last outing for Sergio Parisse and company was a dead rubber 52-14 away defeat to Biarritz back on May 4.
Leinster, in contrast, have had matches coming thick and fast. Since their semi-final canter against Biarritz in which they danced through a half-hearted French defence for a total of 687 metres, Leinster have had two pressurised games. First came Ospreys in a must-win final league game to guarantee themselves a home Pro 12 semi-final; that semi-final then saw a tough and talented Glasgow demand that Leinster make 149 tackles on a cold and windy RDS evening. No quarter asked, none given, and an injury list that has seen a Leinster team named for the Amlin final without both of their first-choice centres.
Enter the Leinster player of the year, Ian Madigan, to partner Fergus McFadden in the centre with Andrew Conway on the wing.
The big surprise in the pack is the naming of Jack McGrath in the front row with Cian Healy on the bench. It’s a huge opportunity for McGrath who has just two substitute appearances under his belt in European play.
Leinster’s recent semi-final matches against Biarritz and Glasgow were notable for some superb running (159 metres on 22 carries) by Jamie Heaslip, named as captain tonight.
It’s the second-last night out for Sexton and Nacewa, Leinster heroes both; one off to France, one home to New Zealand. Their supporters will hope for one half of a trophy double to send them on their way.
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