Leinster v Stade Toulousain - Teams and Prediction
EUROPEAN CUP, SEMIFINALS: With French Rugby enjoying the almost perfect year after a Six Nations victory, only the United Rugby Championship side Leinster can stop them from taking another Champions’ Cup win in Europe as well.
But to do it, they will have to beat the French defending champions, Toulouse, this weekend at the Aviva Stadium.
It was a heartbreaking weekend for URC sides last weekend as Munster went out to Toulouse on the rarest of place-kicking shootouts, while both Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh were downed in the Challenge Cup quarters by late tries.
So it all comes down to Leinster, the team that has dominated URC proceedings this season and been the Championship’s one shining light every year. They simply are a European powerhouse, and now standing alone against the defending champions they will have to prove it once again.
Toulouse’s form against Munster will have given Leinster hope, especially with the way they downed Leicester Tigers last weekend and the chinks in the armour that the red army found at the same stadium.
Make no mistake, if Toulouse turn up two weeks in a row to walk away winners at Aviva, it will be some massive feat for the team that won the Cup so convincingly last season as well.
But that’s what makes the showdown so appetising.
Both sides are powerhouses of European rugby and it is almost impossible – on paper at least – to pick a winner in the contest.
And as Leinster’s cult wing James Lowe said this week – it doesn’t get any bigger.
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“I think this is as big as it gets – to win this title, we’ve got to beat the best,” said Lowe at the team’s weekly press conference.
“They’ve got five stars on their chest and that’s something we’ve been striving towards for years.”
Lowe even volunteered to take a kick if another shootout appears but knows the Leinster fans will be the team’s biggest asset on the day.
Lowe is happy to be among the penalty takers against the Top 14 champions if another shootout is required to decide the victors.
“They’re a championship side, that’s for sure. They’re the current champions, the current double champions and they’re a team that play a beautiful game of rugby,” he added.
“On top of all that, we know if we can get our stuff right and try to limit their opportunities, we can go a long way.
“Our home fans will turn up in droves, I’m sure. Dublin will definitely turn it on. We know if we can turn in a clinical performance, we’ll put our best foot forward.
“Toulouse have a lot of outstanding individuals that we have to keep on red alert for. But that’s the name of the game. You’re into knockout footy. It’s amazing to be at home and hopefully, we get a sold-out crowd.
“Yeah, I’ll definitely put my hand up [in a shootout] – I know the drama is amazing for the spectator but jeepers when I heard that game went to 100 minutes. I wouldn’t want to play 100 minutes, 80 minutes is well and truly enough.”
Meanwhile, Toulouse lock Rory Arnold, who played for Griquas way back in 2013, and believes that Leinster are the “benchmark” for his side and they need to put in a powerful performance if they want to defend their title.
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“I guess a little bit in that we travelled away and got the results in those two games [Ulster and Connacht], but I think they’re the benchmark, they’re a step up in terms of Irish rugby,” Arnold told local media.
“So we’re going to have to be very, very good and clinical if we want to get the result on Saturday. When you have that many internationals playing on both sides, the level of rugby is going to be that bit higher and it’s definitely going to have an international feel to it.
“I’m expecting the weather to be fine so there should be some quality rugby on display on Saturday afternoon and we’re looking forward to it.”
Arnold was quick to point out that European Cup rugby is a step up from the domestic leagues, something SA sides will find out when they enter the competition next season.
“Definitely there are some big physical matches over here in the Top 14, but in saying that, you’re going a step up when it comes to European Cup rugby,” Arnold added.
“It’s quicker, it’s physical . So look, I wouldn’t say we’ve got an advantage there by any means, but we know how much of a test it’s going to be this weekend for us. It’s going to be massive.
“There is nothing between the teams, when you look at how much experience they have and how successful they have been in their competition and in the Heineken as well, they’re a class team. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”
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The two sides will be meeting for the 13th time in the competition.
Only Munster Rugby and Castres Olympique (18) have faced each other more often in the tournament.
Five-time champions Toulouse have reached the European Cup semi-finals for the 14th time, drawing level with Munster for the most appearances at this stage, while four-time winners Leinster will be playing in their 13th semi-final.
This will be the fourth time Leinster and Toulouse have met in the semi-finals of the Champions Cup, the most played fixture at this stage of the competition (Munster v Saracens, 3 times). Toulouse won the first semi-final clash between the clubs at Stadium de Toulouse in 2009/10, while Leinster have won their two such meetings since then.
Since losing to Toulouse in the pool stage of the Champions Cup in 2018/19, Leinster have gone on to win 21 of their 24 fixtures in the competition (L3, excl. cancelled matches).
Toulouse are unbeaten in their last five trips to Ireland in the Champions Cup, winning four games before eliminating Munster in a place-kicking competition in last weekend’s quarter-finals.
@rugby365com: Leinster by three points
Leinster: 15 Hugo Keenan, 14 Jimmy O’Brien, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 James Lowe, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Caelan Doris, 5 James Ryan, 4 Ross Molony, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Rónan Kelleher, 1 Andrew Porter
Replacements: 16 Dan Sheehan, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Michael Ala’alatoa, 19 Joe McCarthy, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Ciaran Frawley
Toulouse: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Juan Cruz Mallía, 13 Pierre Fouyssac, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Matthis Lebel, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Anthony Jelonch, 7 Francois Cros, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Emmanuel Meafou, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Julien Marchand (captain), 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 David Ainu’u, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Selevasio Tolofua, 21 Thibaud Flament, 22 Martin Page Relo, 23 Zack Holmes
Date: Saturday, May 14
Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Kick-off: 15.00 (16.00 French time; 14.00 GMT)
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley (England) & Anthony Woodthorpe (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)
Source: @ChampionsCup & @URC