2010/2011 Heineken Cup SemiFinal Preview: Leinster Vs. Toulouse
With due respect to the other semifinal, the clash between the reigning and four-time champions Toulouse, and the winners in 2009 Leinster, represents the match between two of the current powerhouses of the European stage.
French giants Toulouse are aiming for an unprecedented fifth European title, and are potentially heading for an 18th French domestic crown, currently top of the table in this year’s top 14.
In their record 10th semifinal, they have won 19 from 27 Heineken knockout matches, and their only loss in this season’s competition came at the hand of London Wasps at Adam’s Park, with an 81st-minute-David-Lemi try, winning it for the Englishmen.
Indeed it was that reverse that means Toulouse have to travel to Aviva Stadium, where Leinster awaits arguably the form team of the tournament.
They are second to Munster in the Magner’s League but, unlike their eliminated rivals, Leinster navigated the toughest pool—beating Clermont, Racing-Metro and Saracensm to claim second seed in the finals.
Twice Magner’s (Celtic) League winners, and two-time runners up, their breakthrough Heineken Cup in 2008/2009 confirmed them as a legitimate heavyweight.
Irish test and Leinster centre Gordon D'Arcy, told the Irish Independent that talk that the French side was a fading force was rubbish.
"It's still Toulouse," he said. "Rupeni Caucaunibuca was playing at the weekend; he hasn't played for four or five games. He'd walk into any team in Europe yet he's one of their rotational guys. It just shows the strength of depth in their squad.
"They're the team that everybody wants to beat, year in year out. They've won the most trophies.
"We can't look for any excuses; we'll take them at face value and have to bring our 'A' game.
"We just need to worry about ourselves. I know myself, if I'm lucky to play, if I win my individual battle, then I can contribute to the team.
"Everyone needs to have that mindset and perform that little bit better than the guy you're playing against."
I think Toulouse are going to be a step up on Leicester. Toulouse are probably more of a complete team. They have more impact off the bench. The Irish will be wary, as last season’s semifinal they clashed with Toulouse on French soil, and the champion’s elect toyed with Leinster up front and were ruthless in the set piece.
Leinster look a stronger side this season, noticeably up front. While Toulouse has talked them up, even claiming the Irish are the "perfect team," neither opponent will be able to claim outright dominance in any facet of the game.
Toulouse is typically stacked with French internationals. While their 16-win and eight-loss season has them leading the top 14, it is not form that suggests they have been devastating throughout the last 12 months.
Samoan and Toulouse prop Census Johnston believes the game will be decided by the packs.
"We are expecting a big battle, especially up front," he said.
"We did well last year and it setup a platform for us and even tough we have targeted it again this year we know they will be doing the same.
"They have put in some strong performances and have been working hard so we know it is going to be a challenge."
Toulouse have been here before, and have the goods to get a fifth crown.
Leinster deserve favouritism based on home advantage and what was hard-nosed form getting through a tough pool and a tight quarterfinal against Leicester.
Toulouse, who replayed last year’s final with Biarritz in their quarterfinal, won 7-20 in extra time.
The two teams have played each other eight times in Europe, with Toulouse ahead five to three, with Leinster triumphing the last occasion they met in Dublin in 2008.
Date: Saturday, April 30
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Leinster: 15 Isa Nacewa, 14 Shane Horgan, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Nathan Hines, 4 Leo Cullen (c), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy. Replacements: 16 Jason Harris-Wright, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Stan Wright, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.
Toulouse: 15 Cédric Heymans, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Clément Poitrenaud, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 David Skrela, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles , 7 Yannick Nyanga, 6 Jean Bouilhou, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Census Johnston, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux. Replacements: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Daan Human, 18 Johnson Falefa, 19 Thierry Dusautoir, 20 Nicolas Bezy, 21 Yannick Jauzion, 22 Shaun Sowerby, 23 Grégory Lamboley.
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