Stade Francais v Leinster: Amlin Challenge Cup final preview

A look ahead to tonight's match

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The Independent Online

After signing a one-year contract extension with Leinster and the Irish Rugby Football Union, Brian O’Driscoll was ruled out of the Amlin Challenge Cup final against Stade Francais with a back spasm that he picked up in the reigning Heineken Cup champions clash with Glasgow last week.

O'Driscoll left the pitch after suffering the injury in the 17-15 RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final win, and the injury leaves a question over his fitness as he prepares to head off with the British and Irish Lions to tour Australia. However, his teammates and fellow Lions Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney will have their eyes focused fully on tonight's final at the Royal Dublin Society ground.

Despite the final being played at a pre-arranged venue, Leinster will have the home advantage in the precursor to Saturday's Heineken Cup final, and having been knocked out at the group stages in a very tough group that contained Clermont Auvergne, Leinster will want to pick up more European silverware after back-to-back Heineken Cups. They still have the chance to finish with the Pro12 title as they take on Ulster next weekend, in what could be yet another double-winning season for Joe Schmidt before he leaves his post and takes up the role as Ireland's head coach.

Stade Francais are no pushovers though, and they will be gunning for the win after experiencing the highs and lows that European rugby has to offer. They have reached the Amlin Challenge Cup final before, losing narrowly to Harlequins two years ago in a 19-18 defeat. They have also reached the Heineken Cup final twice before, but again lost out to Toulouse in 2005 but six points and Leicester Tigers in 2001 by just four points.

History has seen them come out on the wrong side of European finals, and it is a streak they will want to end by claiming their first European trophy. In captain Sergio Parisse, they have a No. 8 widely regarded as one of the best in his position in the world. Having led his Italian national side to victory over France and Ireland in this year's RBS Six Nations, Parisse played a heavy role throughout the tournament and has converted that form with his performances for Stade being equally as impressive.

With Stade finishing in tenth position in the Top 14, they will be relying on victory tonight as their only way of qualification for next season's Heineken Cup, but Leinster will start as heavy favourites in front of a partisan Irish crowd. Nevertheless, Stade Francais shouldn't be ruled out completely, and with Leinster's talismanic O'Driscoll missing from the squad, Stade may just feel that their time to claim silverware is now.



Leinster: Rob Kearney; Andrew Conway, Fergus McFadden, Ian Madigan, Isa Nacewa; Jonathan Sexton, Isaac Boss; Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross; Quinn Roux, Devin Toner; Rhys Ruddock, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Richardt Strauss, Cian Healy, Jamie Hagan, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, John Cooney, Andrew Goodman, Dave Kearney.


Stade Francais: Jerome Porical; Jeremy Sinzelle, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Paul Williams, Hugo Bonneval; Jules Plisson, Julien Dupuy; Aled de Malmanche, Laurent Sempere, Rabah Slimani; Scott LaValla, Gerhard Mostert; David Lyons, Pierre Rabadan, Sergio Parisse.

Replacements: Remy Bonfils, Stanley Wright, Jeremy Becasseau, Anton van Zyl, Lei Tomiki, Waisea Nayacalevu Vuidravuwalu, Julien Arias, Paul Warwick.


TV: Coverage is Live tonight on Sky Sports 2 at 8pm