There’s lots of products and entities throughout history that have been a major point of debate as to which is the best. BMW vs Audi, Blur vs Oasis, Samsung vs Apple, Carlsberg vs Heineken etc. No matter how many facts and opinions are shared between both sides, it rarely influences either party to switch their allegiance and rock solid opinion! Take a look at this weekend’s semi final between Leinster and Toulouse for example, there’s a very strong case to be made on both sides as to who will come out victorious and to be honest, both arguments are quite valid. However, as I’m 100% blue blooded, I’m going to present the case for Leinster and provide my two cents on their chances of reaching a second European final in two years, and a 5th in 10 years!!
Leinster are the best team in Europe right now, after all, they are the ones with last season’s trophy and gold jersey patch to prove it! Speaking of the jersey, for further evidence of their success and status as a European superpower, look no further than the stars etched above their emblem. There’s no denying that this team is riding high and are looking like champions again this season. Now, look at Toulouse. Some would call them the aristocrats of rugby, the French juggernauts that slapped opposition up and down rugby pitches for over a decade up until 2010. They too have the 4 star quality that Leinster possess and following a few years of poor results, they are back at the top table and are looking to reclaim their crown. How better to reassert dominance by resolving a very disputed argument this weekend; who is the greatest of the European giants, who will come out victorious when the 4 star champions face off with the 4 star champions? Now this is a true clash of titans!!
Leinster’s form has dipped quite considerably since the 6 Nations started back in February. Cullen has been chopping and changing his team selections quite a lot from week to week which appears to have created a bit of inconsistency and lack of cohesion within the squad. Last month, Leinster faced Ulster in the Champions Cup quarter final and Leinster made life very difficult for themselves. Ulster turned up and played probably their most complete performance over the last 4 seasons and Leinster just about held them out to take the victory. Great preparation for Leinster, but it was a worrying sight. Since then, Leinster have not won a game in 3 fixtures (two losses and one draw). Ok, Leinster already secured a semi final place in the Pro14 back in March so they had nothing to play for, but these games should have been used to try out new things and prepare for the semi final. Instead, we witnessed some awful performances from the boys in blue. At this point, it’s very important to point out that Leinster suffered an awful dip in form following last years’ 6 Nations but still managed to win both cups! So, what can all of this tell us about this weekend’s game against Toulouse? Well, for one thing, if Leinster play like they did against Ulster in the quarter final, we’ll most certainly lose! Toulouse are playing some of their best rugby in years right now, and are probably the most in form team in Europe over the last couple of months. They showed their immense skill and resilience in their quarter final away to Racing last month. They lost a man to a red card just after the first quarter, but still managed to win the match with a breathtaking performance.
A lot of Leinster’s dip in form can be put down to a lack of senior player selections in the matchday squads. However, Cullen has fixed this just in time for this match by selecting what I can only call the most complete starting 15 of the whole season. The bench isn’t too shabby either:
15. Rob Kearney (207)
14. Jordan Larmour (35)
13. Garry Ringrose (61)
12. Robbie Henshaw (33)
11. James Lowe (26)
10. Johnny Sexton (156) CAPTAIN
9. Luke McGrath (109)
1. Cian Healy (204)
2. Seán Cronin (169)
3. Tadhg Furlong (98)
4. Devin Toner (228)
5. James Ryan (27)
6. Rhys Ruddock (158)
7. Seán O’Brien (124)
8. Jack Conan (85)
16. James Tracy (90)
17. Ed Byrne (42)
18. Michael Bent (121)
19. Scott Fardy (40)
20. Max Deegan (41)
21. Hugh O’Sullivan (13)
22. Ross Byrne (67)
23. Rory O’Loughlin (59)
There’s literally not a single weakness in the starting 15. The only two major talking points are Lowe and Sexton. Lowe has been selected ahead of Gibson-Park which is probably a good move given that his attacking flair and the overall high energy he injects into the team is undeniable. Coupled with the explosive pace and attacking inginuity from Larmour, both wings will be a major concern for our French opposition. Sexton is also back to play his first game in blue since Christmas! Although he had a shaky 6 Nations campaign by his standards, I’ve no doubt he’ll return to his best regardless of any lack of game time. He’s proven that he can do this time and time again, and you can be sure that in a European semi final, it’ll be no different from our captain!
Elsewhere, the team is littered with quality and leaders aplenty where every single ounce of their experience and skill will undoubtedly be called upon for each minute they grace the field at the Aviva Stadium.
Toulouse come with some major firepower of their own. Kolbe is a incredible threat to every team he plays. He can slice and dice a defense like very few other wingers. As Brian O’Driscoll said during the week, Leinster best beware this guy! Medard on the bench just shows how much quality this team has; they can leave probably their greatest talisman on the bench and inject further pressure on Leinster in the latter stages of the match. Dupont will be key for Toulouse, he’s been the linchpin for their attack all season and hasn’t put a foot wrong. All in all, we’re in for a very tough day at the Irish International HQ this Sunday, there’ll be no lack of intensity that’s for sure!
Where the game will be won
There’s far too much quality on both sides for their to be a runaway score. I feel that there’ll be a good number of tries scored, maybe 3 each, but it’ll be the defensive efforts that will be the winning of the match. Leinster has already proven that they are a very tough team to score against but Toulouse have a capability of scoring from nothing, and capitalising from the smallest errors in defense. Make no mistake, Toulouse will poke and prod our toughest defense and should anyone slip up, they’ll pile through the gaps. Toulouse too showed their defensive masterclass against Racing in the dying minutes of the quarter final. They know how to stop a 15 man siege, even when they only have 14 men on the field themselves. The coaches at Leinster must want a free flowing game however, especially given that Lowe is starting, so maybe the plan is to kick long, send Larmour and Lowe into space, and do a lot of poking around themselves. This plan sounds great given that our 1-8 selection is filled to the brim with battle hardened Irish internationals capable of racking up 30-40 phases regularly throughout the season. The team that holds out the longest to sustained pressure, especially around the middle of the field, will prevail. The wingers on both sides are too strong to hold out, and I have a cheeky prediction that Lowe will score first, followed shortly by Kolbe, so while the wingers tear each other up, the packs will need to hold their lines and remove potential threats that could cause problems all over the defensive line.
Based on current form, Toulouse are certainly performing better than Leinster. They have it all; slick passing, strong defensive lines, an excellent kicking game, you name it they have it. Leinster however, have experience and an ability to seriously shift up a gear or two for big games, we’ve seen this far too many times to doubt that. However, the lack of consistency is a worry so I think it might take time for Leinster to properly settle into the game. This will more than likely keep the scoreline very close for the first half, but once the second half starts, we should start to see a more settled team and experience the performance we’ve been waiting for since we completed the Pool stages. Leinster has already faced Toulouse twice this season, losing away, and winning at home. After the final whistle is blown on Sunday, it’ll be two one to the boys in blue, and a serious debate about which team is the greatest in European history might very well be decided. I’m sure I’ll tweet about the build up to the match on my iPhone, followed by belting out some classic Blur tracks in the BMW before downing a few pints of Heineken to keep the nerves at bay 😉. With it being Easter weekend, the stage is set for a cracking game of eggcellent rugby!
Leinster 30 – Toulouse 26
Matchday Result: Leinster 30 – Toulouse 12
One thought on “Leinster v Toulouse – Champions Cup Semi-Final Preview”
Eggscellent write-up! You’re some yoke! Should be a cracking game….
Ok, on a serious note, this is deffo our best squad, but can they all click and perform like the team we know they can? There’s plenty of evidence that Toulouse are a very effective team, so if we turn up we should still have plenty to beat them – it’s basically the best of the Irish international squad. I think Toulouse will tire early and start coughing up penalties under pressure, we’ll win by 10 at least! And then it’s Sarries in the final! Moanster don’t have their superhero Carbury so that’s a given ;). COYBIB