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Title holders Leinster face Clermont challenge

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-09

Leinster expect to be pushed hard by French outfit Clermont in their European Cup quarter-final in Dublin Friday, a match Leinster coach Michael Cheika described as "the biggest battle of our season".

AFP - Reigning champions Leinster take part in their seventh European Cup quarter-final in nine years on Friday and expect the biggest challenge of their season against attractive French outfit Clermont.

In other ties, Basque giants Biarritz take on Welsh region Ospreys in northern Spain, Irish province Munster host English club Northampton, and the final quarter sees an all-French clash between Toulouse and Stade Francais.

Leinster coach Michael Cheika, who will take over at Stade Francais at the end of this season, said Clermont's Top 14 loss to Stade at the weekend had given him an indicator of what to expect in Dublin.

"It was a good physical match (Clermont had against Stade Francais) so we were able to confirm some bigger picture issues," the Australian said on Leinster's website.

"They didn't win the game, but if you look at their performances over the entire season they're a pack of power.

"They have some unbelievable threats that we're going to have to deal with, as well as a really strong defence and an excellent kicking game, and they're very complete."

Cheika pinpointed France scrum-half Morgan Parra, player of the recently-concluded Six Nations, and Australian stand-off Brock James as the dangermen in "the best team that's operating in France at the moment".

"This is sudden death football now, so I think it's going to come down to who wants it more on the night now. Clermont are a team who don't seem to have an issue about going away from home.

"They have shown their strategic prowess in the two matches they played in their pool against Leicester and the Ospreys. They're also very well managed and it's going to be the biggest battle of our season so far."

Ospreys face a testing trip away to San Sebastian to face Biarritz, who will look to France's Grand Slam stand-out No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy for inspiration.

"It's always easier to get back into your club and follow your objectives on the back of winning a tournament such as the Six Nations, especially a Grand Slam, because you are in a winning attitude and your sense of achievement is a formidable motivation for the rest of the season," said Harinordoquy.

He added: "We know it will be very tough but what is at stake is the possibility of a home semi-final and it would be likely for us again to play at Estadio Anoeta" against the winner of the Munster v Northampton quarter-final.

"We had a good 26-10 win against Toulouse the other week and then beat Montauban 42-13 last weekend so hopefully we have kept on the right track and this has been good preparation."

Harinordorquy warned that his team would be wary of the Ospreys backline in a team bristling with Welsh internationals and a couple of experience old hands like former All Blacks enforcer Jerry Collins.

"They are capable of producing momentum and play the ball wide a lot and it is hard to compete when they hold the ball," he said.

For Ospreys coach Sean Holley, it will be a case of hoping his team improve on their record of just one win on French soil in the tournament.

"We are exactly where we want to be at the moment. We have got guys coming back into form and fitness and a lot of players have put their hands up for selection," said Holley.



Leinster (IRL) v Clermont Auvergne (FRA)


Biarritz (FRA) v Ospreys (WAL), Munster (IRL) v Northampton (ENG)


Toulouse (FRA) v Stade Francais (FRA)

Date created : 2010-04-09