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Exeter v Leinster live on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport


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Dry but chilly for the game at Sandy Park with temperatures of 8 degrees.

Domestic bliss but European woes

Leinster's dominance of the domestic game cannot be called into question. Their victory over Munster in last month's Guinness Pro14 Grand Final gave them their fourth title in a row, and their sixth championship in nine seasons.

Europe has been a different story. They are, it must be pointed out, still the joint most successful team in the history of the Champions Cup having won the continent's premier club competition on four occasions.

Their recent relationship with the competition, has to some extent, been defined by a six-minute period before half-time in the 2019 final against Saracens. After making a dream start to lead 10-0 after 34 minutes, they went in at the break all square.

The momentum was with Sarries and they kept Leinster scoreless after the break as they won 20-10. The invincible defending champions had lost from a strong position.

English opposition have ended Leinster's last two European seasons

They had their chance at revenge in Dublin last September when the sides met again, but this time the victory for the Gallagher Premiership side was even more comprehensive, and they were nearly out of sight by half-time.

Although Leinster battled gamely in the second 40 they were still two scores behind at the final blow of referee Pascal Gauzere's whistle.

For Leo Cullen, there are lessons in those two defeats to Saracens that can be taken into Saturday's contest.

"The setpiece battle is always going to be important and we found that out in our last quarter-final," he said in the build-up.

"Against Saracens we came unstuck a little bit in that area. Without a quality platform it's difficult and Saracens were good in terms of being able to build that scoreboard pressure against us in the first half.

"We came back strong in the second half but it was a little bit too late. So the start of the game is going to be important - how we impose ourselves in all the physical contact pieces.

"As always that's the challenge so we've tried to prepare accordingly and the guys are excited about getting going."

The Pro14 champions are that competition's only representative in the quarter-finals of this season's Champions Cup. It seems that the arrival of the big South African franchises, and the expansion of the competition to 16 teams, can't come soon enough from a Leinster perspective.

Something has to give

Defending champions Exeter are enjoying their best ever European home run. They've won their last eight games in the Champions Cup at Sandy Park, and they're unbeaten in their last 11 at all venues in the competition.

Leinster's away form though is also very impressive, with six from six in Europe on their recent trips away from Dublin. No team has ever won seven in a row away from home in the competition, so the eastern province could create a little piece of history tomorrow.

Leinster have a 100% record against Exeter in Europe

These sides have played four times in European competition previously, with Leinster winning all of those matches (Pool stages 2012/13 and 2017/18).

For Exeter Director of Rugby Rob Baxter though, it's all ancient history.

"You've got to get perspective and move on from the history of seven, eight, nine or 10 years ago," he declared.

"Leinster were the first team we played in the Heineken Cup in 2012 and there was a fair bit of underestimation from them… they sneaked through 9-6 over in Ireland.

"Since then we’ve met a few times and they’ve come out on top, but we’ve moved on to a degree.

"I’m not saying we’re meeting on a level playing field, but it’s far more level than to talk about past history too much.

"If we talked about history then Exeter would never be near the final of the Premiership or a European Cup. We’ve now won both.

"So it’s about the here and now and the here and now is that we have an expectation to do well."

Can Leinster prevail?

So can Leinster carry the flag for the Pro14 and make the semi-final, where the likelihood is that a French club will await them? RTÉ Rugby columnist Jonny Holland wrote this week that the French teams will fancy their chances of claiming a first European Cup win for the country since 2015.

"It's going to take something special and consistent over the next few weeks to upset the French momentum but both teams (Exeter and Leinster) are capable of it," he opined.

For Donal Lenihan, speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he sees Leinster getting the job done - if only just.

"This game is the tie of the quarter-finals for me - you are looking at the champions in 2018 against the champions of 2020. Exeter really impressed against Lyon, they went 14 points down last week and came back to win. Leinster and Exeter are very similar in their approach, big physical sides.

"They play a power game in the opposition 22. It remains to be seen whether the Leinster game last week, the postponement against Toulon, will be a help or a hindrance. The one concern I have for them is this could be the game where the loss of James Ryan and Garry Ringrose is really felt.

"Look, I'd never back against Leinster, but this game is going to be incredibly tight. I'm going with Leinster to get over the line, but I'm worried about the fact that Ryan and Ringrose won't be starting this one."

Changes for both sides

Scott Fardy is in for Leinster, with Ryan Baird relegated to the replacements bench. That is the only change to the team that was supposed to line-out in last week's subsequently cancelled game against Toulon.

It's worth noting though that Johnny Sexton, James Lowe and Tadhg Furlong are all starting having been on the bench for the victory over Munster in the final of the Guinness Pro14 last month - that was Leinster's last game.

Ireland out-half Sexton was introduced in that win at the RDS but had to be replaced soon afterwards for a HIA and he didn't return.

Exeter make two changes to their starting line-up. Both come in the front-row where props Ben Moon and Tomas Francis replace Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams. Otherwise, the Chiefs remain unchanged.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Rory O'Loughlin, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, Rónan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Scott Fardy, Devin Toner, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: James Tracy, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Hugh O'Sullivan, Ross Byrne, Dave Kearney.

Exeter: Stuart Hogg, Olly Woodburn, Henry Slade, Ollie Devoto, Tom O'Flaherty, Joe Simmonds, Jack Maunder; Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tomas Francis, Jonny Gray, Jonny Hill, Dave Ewers, Jacques Vermeulen, Sam Simmonds.

Replacements: Jack Yeandle, Alec Hepburn, Harry Williams, Sam Skinner, Jannes Kirsten, Stu Townsend, Harvey Skinner, Ian Whitten.

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Follow Exeter v Leinster (5.30pm, Saturday) via our live blog on RTE.ie and the RTÉ News app or listen live on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport.