A 24-21 WIN over Toulon at the beginning of November stretched Clermont Auvergne’s unbeaten home record to 50 games.
The half century is out of the way but Jonathan Sexton and Leinster are keen to set the counter to zero after Sunday’s Heineken Cup pool match on Sunday.
Sexton knows what it is like to beat Clermont in France – he made a crucial, late tackle on Jamie Cudmore in last season’s 19-15 semi-final win – but the fixture took place in Bordeaux.
The imposing surrounds of Stade Marcel Michelin will face Leinster on Sunday. Sexton, for one, is looking forward to making some history.
He told TheScore.ie, “It’s the weeks like this that you play rugby for. This is it.
If we can prepare as well as we can – and it’s a massive challenge for us, especially with the injuries we have – to go to Clermont and get a win is a massive ask but this team has always tried to the challenges put in front of it.
“This is probably the biggest one we’ve ever faced.”
New faces, fresh combinations
Sexton was pleased with a 40-minute contribution against Zebre, on Saturday, that yielded 12 points.
He admitted that there were times when he felt, after an extended time with the national team, that he was still running Irish lines but fitness concerns over the groin injury that ruled him out of the Fiji game have abated.
“It’s tough coming back into the Leinster system after being with Ireland for a month,” said Sexton. “The calls, the way they play, are different.
“Guys have to get used to it all again and [the game] was badly needed ahead of next week.
“We’ve got some time together under our belt and now we’ll look ahead to the prep for next week and the Clermont game. A lot of work to do.”
Andrew Goodman is tackled by Zebre’s Leonardo Sarto. (©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)
Leinster were missing a back five of Rob Kearney, Luke Fitzgerald, Brian O’Driscoll, Eoin O’Malley and Brendan Macken on Saturday but the players on show, especially Sexton and Fergus McFadden, were too much for thewir Italian opponents.
“I need to play with Andrew Goodman,” admitted Sexton. “I haven’t played with him before so it’s about getting used to him. He’s a really good player, a good talker outside me.
“Then Andy Conway came in on the wing. These guys might play next week so it was good to get some time in with them. It was great to get back playing with Sean [O'Brien] as well.”
Breaks that make careers
Sexton said, “We’re a few backs down, we’ve got pretty much a full compliment of forwards to pick from, which is great.
“We’ve got a lot of young, exciting backs and they’ll be relishing the break that they are going to get.” He added:
These are the sort of breaks that make careers. You saw Craig Gilroy [for Ireland] last week, his first Test, and how he performed.
“I’m sure that will give the guys confidence to put in a similar performance in Clermont if they get the chance.”
Gordon D’Arcy enjoyed himself in the outside centre role, where he last played in March against Munster, and set up McFadden for his second try.
“I thought Gordon played really well at 13,” said Sexton. “I think his best season for Ireland was when he was playing 13 and Brian was injured.
“He likes the space and it opens up a bit more for him out there so hopefully we’ll get the benefits of that if he plays there next week.”