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Big onus on Deegan and Doris to deliver top-seed spot

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14 December 2019; Caelan Doris of Leinster during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 4 match between Leinster and Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

14 December 2019; Caelan Doris of Leinster during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 4 match between Leinster and Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

14 December 2019; Caelan Doris of Leinster during the Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 Round 4 match between Leinster and Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

This is one of the more straightforward situations that Leinster have found themselves in over the years - beat Benetton today and they will cruise into the knockout stages of the Champions Cup as top seeds.

That there are a couple of records at stake adds to the need to get the job done but, ultimately, it is all about securing that home quarter-final and potential home semi-final.

The fact that they can do it so early in the day without having to worry about results elsewhere is another bonus for Leo Cullen's men, who have been rampant this season.

A win in Treviso would be Leinster's 16th on the bounce since the start of the campaign, which would see them break their own record that was set in 2002. As well as that, a bonus-point win would see them equal the highest points tally (29) after the pool stages, which was set by Biarritz 13 years ago.

Motivation will not be in short supply then, as is reflected in a strong line-up. James Ryan returns from injury, while Rhys Ruddock will be glad to see the back of this week, having been left out of Ireland's Six Nations squad and now dropped to the Leinster bench for Max Deegan, who shifts to blindside to accommodate Caelan Doris at No 8.

Tough as it is on Ruddock, there's a lot to like about this Leinster back-row, which we could also see lining out in green before long.

In the absence of Ruddock, there will be a big onus on Deegan and Doris to set the tone up front, while Luke McGrath is handed the captain's armband for the first time in Europe.

Ross Byrne will be hoping to get a good platform from the forwards, because it will be his responsibility to get a familiar looking back-line firing.

Benetton's interest in Europe may have long since ended, but they have proven against Leinster that they can be a tough nut to crack.

With several Italy players in their side, they will want to go into the Six Nations on a positive note, just as much as Leinster do. Former Munster No 10 Ian Keatley will pull the strings and the Dubliner would love nothing more than to get one over on his native province.

Cullen has talked up the Benetton threat, yet he knows that if his side play well, the Italians won't be able to cope. That's why they will focus on what they need to do to ensure that the road to Marseille becomes easier.

"It's a bit clearer now, just win the game, finish top," Cullen insisted.

"The home advantage is huge. We've got ourselves into a great position, let's go out and deliver a performance. Winning runs. It's all irrelevant really. For us, we need to try and get what we can from the game - ideally win it."

Verdict: Leinster

Benetton: J Hayward; A Esposito, L Morisi, M Zanon, M Ioane; I Keatley, T Tebaldi; F Zani, H Faiva, S Ferrari; A Zanni, E Snyman; M Barbini (capt), B Steyn, T Halafhi. Reps: T Baravalle, N Quaglio, C Traore, I Herbst, G Pettinelli, M Lazzaroni, A Rizzi, T Benvenuti.

Leinster: J Larmour; D Kearney, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, J Lowe; R Byrne, L McGrath (capt); C Healy, S Cronin, A Porter; D Toner, J Ryan; M Deegan, J van der Flier, C Doris. Reps: J Tracy, P Dooley, T Furlong, R Molony, R Ruddock, J Gibson-Park, C Frawley, R Kearney.

REF: K Dickson (England)

Benetton v Leinster, Stadio Comunale di Monigo, 1.0, Live BT Sport