Heineken Cup: Leinster braced for ‘derby’ with Clermont

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Isa Nacewa admits Leinster and Clermont Auvergne know each other so well their crunch Cup meeting today (4pm) is almost a derby fixture.

Two-time defending European champions Leinster face the Top 14 giants at Stade Marcel Michelin, where the French club have not lost in over three years.

Both sides are unbeaten thus far in Pool 5, and their meetings this weekend and next will go a long way to deciding who will win the group and guarantee a quarter-final berth.

This will be the fourth consecutive season in which Leinster and Clermont have clashed in the Heineken Cup, but winger Nacewa, right, says familiarity does not make life any easier

Nacewa told Leinster TV: “They had Morgan Parra, Aurelien Rougerie and all their big names playing last week, as well as a big pack with some big names so they have prepared well to play us.

“This fixture has turned into a bit of a derby over the last few years. I have said they are not a team you want to come up with in the group stages and we have had them twice in the last three years.

“They have an unbelievable squad and every player is a good one. But we have to be confident going there, they have not lost there in going on for 50 home games so we have to focus.”

The game will also pit Clermont coach Vern Cotter against former cohort Joe Schmidt. The pair worked together in France before Schmidt elected to make the move to Leinster, and Cotter knows how important these fixtures are if his side are to progress.

“Qualifying from the pool will depend on this double header,” said Cotter. “They, as we have done, have long marked this date in the calendar. My players are very excited, focused and motivated.”

In Pool 6, injury-ravaged Cardiff Blues face an uphill task to keep alive their slim qualification hopes against Montpellier at the Arms Park.

The hosts are without the key trio of centre Jamie Roberts (hip), full-back Leigh Halfpenny (neck) and lock Bradley Davies (concussion) after they all suffered injuries while on international duty with Wales.

Michael Paterson, Dan Fish, Andi Kyriacou and Tom James are also absent, leaving director of rugby Phil Davies in an unenviable position.

“Only a fortnight ago things were looking very positive for us, when we were welcoming back some key players,” he said.

“However, we have been extremely unfortunate to pick up a raft of injuries. It is frustrating that we cannot select from a full strength squad, but on a positive note, it gives a chance for some of our other players to step up.”

In Pool 2, Leicester host Benetton Treviso looking to record another bonus-point victory to boost their last-eight aspirations, having picked up five points against the Ospreys at Welford Road in October.