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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 23 October, 2014

Leinster put distractions to one side with qualification in sight

The Amlin Challenge Cup champions are in France today, hoping to avoid the need to defend their crown.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

AND, SO THE baton passes to Leinster. While it’s rarely been spectacular, it has been a solid and successful Heineken Cup weekend for Irish provinces with all three winning and Ulster and Munster securing their place in the quarter-finals.

As Leinster bid to emulate those feat this afternoon in Castres, they start the day in the driving seat of Pool 1, four points clear of Northampton who have travel to Wales to face Ospreys.

As if planning for a contest in France was not stressful enough, Matt O’Connor has found himself growing frustrated in the build-up to this game with recurring subjects continuing to pop up and perhaps distract from the job in hand.

On the one hand, is an element he can control; his selection at out-half. Today O’Connor has taken the responsibility of  plotting a course of a tough away trip away from Ian Madigan and into the experienced hands of Jimmy Gopperth.

On the other, O’Connor is only too aware that two of his most important players are fast running out of contract in Ireland.

At least Jamie Heaslip is fit, well and available in-house with Leinster’s arsenal. The same cannot be said for Sean O’Brien who was apparently being courted by Toulon as Joe Schmidt ruled him out of rugby for four months on Friday night.

In O’Brien’s absence, the dynamic carrying threat will be brought by Jordi Murphy, with Heaslip once again handed captaincy duties. Leo Cullen is selected on the bench as Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy form  part of the tight five still missing Cian Healy.

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While Castres have not quite been tempted down the Montpellier route of naming a shadow XV, have placed star men Rory Kockott and Antonie Claassen on the ‘unavailable’ list early on this week.

The Top 14 side are not yet out of contention for a knock-out berth. But with Leinster in pole position, the desired permutation is simple: a win coupled with a home win for Ospreys will secure pool victory and a place in the top six seeds for the quarter finals.

The opposite outcomes, however, would leave the three-time champions in danger of missing out on the knock-out stages for the second year in a row.

Castres: B Dulin, R Grosso, S Bai, R Lamerat, M Evans, R Tales (capt., C Garcia: Y Forrestier, MA Rallier, K Wihongo, R Gray, C Samson, M Babillot, I Diarra, P Faasalele.

Replacements: B Mach, M Lazar, A Peikrishvili, B Desroche, Y Caballero, J Tomas, D Kirkpatrick, M Garvey.

Leinster : R Kearney, D Kearney, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, E Reddan: J McGrath, S Cronin, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; K McLaughlin, J Murphy, J Heaslip (Capt.)

Replacements: A Dundon, J O’Connell, M Moore, L Cullen, S Jennings, I Boss, I Madigan, Z Kirchner.

3 key battles for Leinster to dominate against Castres

Decision making key to Munster sealing quarter-final place — O’Connell

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