Leinster under pressure

Getty Images     19 Jan 2013     Getty Images

A bonus-point victory against Exeter at Sandy Park is the requirement for Brian O'Driscoll and company tomorrow night, but it still might not be enough.

Leinster can only clinch one of two best runners-up spots available in the quarter-finals, and with Munster and Montpellier among other teams also hotly contesting those places, a pool stage exit cannot be ruled out.

Tournament favourites Clermont Auvergne, who visit the Scarlets tomorrow, have already won Pool Five and Exeter now stand between Leinster and possible progress.

"It would be a fantastic achievement if we could finish with a win, primarily because of the pressure Leinster are under to come here and win and chase a bonus point," Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter said.

"They will be coming here full-on, which is good for us, and the kind of scenario we want to play in. I don't want us to be playing in a dead rubber of a game because you don't learn too much from those types of games.

"What we need to do is learn to cope with the intensity, like that of last week in Clermont.

"This has been a tough group for us this season, but we've won two out of five games so far and I would love us to say at the end we've won three out of six.

"To get a statistic like that, especially in our first season in the Heineken Cup, would be a fantastic achievement and something for us to build from.

"I think the experience of playing in Clermont last week (Exeter lost 46-3) is worth playing a dozen Premiership games, and that is how you have to look at it.

"If we work on the lessons learnt, then down the line I am sure it will improve us as a side."

The Scarlets welcome back fit-again Wales wing George North against Clermont, with the visitors parading a trademark galaxy of international talent such as Lee Byrne, Aurelien Rougerie, Morgan Parra and Julien Bonnaire.

Ulster have already wrapped up Pool Four, but a bonus triumph in Castres tomorrow guarantees them a home quarter-final, with Northampton knowing they need a five-point maximum away to Glasgow in their slim quest of progressing beyond the pool stage.

Sale Sharks conclude their European campaign away to Cardiff Blues tomorrow, with both teams having failed dismally to make any impression on a group dominated by Toulon and Montpellier.

England internationals Danny Cipriani and Mark Cueto are both on bench duty for Sale, but the Blues are boosted by scrum-half Lloyd Williams' return from suspension in a team that also includes his fellow Wales internationals Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts and Sam Warburton.

Cardiff Arms Park ground staff have been working on the pitch today, with the RAF on standby tomorrow morning to help clear away any overnight snow.

"Our Heineken Cup campaign started in Sale and it was a ridiculous game to lose," Blues boss Phil Davies said.

"We played well for 60 minutes with a great team performance, but didn't get the result we wanted.

"Our position in the group obviously isn't where we want to be. We want to be making the quarter-finals and in a couple of years' time challenging in the competition.

"At the moment, the reality is that we are a young side and we are gaining valuable experience in all competitions."

Sunday's action is highlighted by a winner-takes-all Pool Two showdown between Leicester and Toulouse at Welford Road, while Saracens will progress from Pool One if they beat Vicarage Road visitors Edinburgh.

Saracens boss Mark McCall has made three changes from the side that posted a gripping victory over Racing Metro in Nantes last weekend, with starts for fly-half Charlie Hodgson, prop Mako Vunipola and lock George Kruis.

Owen Farrell, who kicked an astonishing 10 penalties in the Racing game, moves to centre, and wing David Strettle, who was carried off during the early stages of last Saturday's encounter, also starts.