By Brendan Cole
After a troubling first half of the season Leinster come into today's clash with Castres at the RDS (5.30pm, live on RTÉ Radio 1) on the back of a heartening upswing in form over the last few weeks.
A good second-half performance against Ulster and an away win in Cardiff have gone some way towards quelling the discontent among the support, though there is still an appetite to see plenty more of that before declaring the slump over.
Up until those results, Matt O’Connor’s men had struggled to produce much quality or cohesion, particularly in attack. Furthermore a lack of linebreaks, constant errors, penalties and difficulties in creating turnovers all contributed to a sense of negativity around the squad.
So, which Leinster will turn up this weekend?
Given the likely motivation of the opposition and the fact that Castres’ focus is now entirely on staying in the Top 14, the expectation is that Leinster will have every opportunity to produce their best.
That is the case even though Castres have picked an unexpectedly good line-up in places with Rory Kockott, Richie Gray, Johnnie Beattie and Ibrahim Diarra all in the starting XV. Against that, Remi Tales and Brice Dulin skip the trip, along with Max Evans.
Even with those good players in the line-up, Castres’ track-record of turning up without much motivation in these situations would also suggest that if Leinster have their house in order, the job is all but done.
For their part, it is interesting to see Eoin Reddan and Jimmy Gopperth selected together with Ian Madigan shifted one place out to outside centre.
At least some of Leinster’s woes this season can be traced back to indifferent form at half-back and Reddan undoubtedly has the ability to get the tempo up. That may be exactly what is required for Leinster’s current brand of rugby to work.
Elsewhere there are few surprises bar the decision to rest Mike Ross. The likes of Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy, Dave Kearney, Fergus McFadden and Luke Fitzgerald take the field with a personal subplot of trying to prove they deserve to be in the Six Nations squad to focus their minds.
Leinster should have more than enough for this Castres selection, even with those big names included.
Prediction: Leinster 24-12 Castres
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan, Dave Kearney, Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan, Michael Bent, Sean Cronin, Marty Moore, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Jack Conan, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Jamie Hagan, Tadhg Furlong, Kane Douglas, Dominic Ryan, Luke McGrath, Gordon D'Arcy, Darragh Fanning.
Castres: Dumora, Martial, Combezou, Cabannes (capt), Garvey, Kirkpatrick, Kockott, Bornman, Beattie, Diarra, Samson, Gray, Herrera, Rallier, Taumoepeau.
Replacements: Bonello, Fa'anunu, Desroche, Montes, Faasalele, Tales, Grosso, Dupont.