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Leinster Rugby vs Stade Toulousain

Royal Dublin Showground,
Saturday, 12 January 2008, 13:30

Television: Live - Sky Sports 2, Highlights RTE 2 at 11.15.
Season Ticket: Heineken Cup Three

Leinster face Toulouse tomorrow in their fifth group match of this year's Heineken Cup. However what should have been a mouth-watering encounter has been diminished by Leinster's dismal defeat in Edinburgh which realistically put an end to their chances of qualification from the group.

So will Leinster just turn up tomorrow to make up the numbers? Well there's three reasons not to. One, qualification is still mathematically possible. Okay, it would take two incredible performances from Leinster and an improbable slip-up from Toulouse, but as long as there's life in the group Leinster have to fight on. If they slack off and then Toulouse did slip up, they would regret it forever. The second reason for wanting to win is the stature of the team they're playing. Toulouse are one of the great rugby teams of Europe, and when they come to town it's always an occasion. We've beaten them before at home and of course most memorably in the Quarter-final two seasons ago. They're a team that's on fire at the moment playing some of the best rugby around. To beat them would be a major scalp on it's own, regardless of qualification. The third and final reason is Leinster need to win for themselves, both for their own pride and to keep their winning run going. Accepting defeat is never an option.

So there's still plenty to play for, and with this in mind coach Michael Cheika has named a very strong team for tomorrow. After impressing on his first start last weekend, scrum-half Chris Keane retains his place ahead of veteran Guy Easterby. He will relish the phycial battle with his opposite number Byron Kelleher. His half-back partner Jonny Sexton loses out though, dropped to the bench with Felipe Contepomi returning to out-half and Gordon D'Arcy resuming at inside centre. It's a conservative call, typical of Cheika's safety first approach. But hopefully D'Arcy will realise that his place is not set in stone and it will inspire a return to his best form. The only other change to the backs is the return of Rob Kearney on the right wing in place of Gary Brown.

In the front row there was an injury scare over prop Stan Wright, but he has been picked at loosehead with Stephen Knoop starting at tighthead. Cian Healy impressed last week in his first start but Cheika obviously feels starting against Jean-Baptiste Poux would be a step too far this early in his career. He's on the bench though ahead of the more experienced Ronan McCormack, who is just returning from injury.  Bernard Jackman and Leo Cullen return to the front five and in the backrow Stephen Keogh is unlucky to lose out, Shane Jennings returning to blind-side to accommodate the return of Keith Gleeson. It's tough on Keogh but it's fantastic to see such tough competition for places in the back-row.

Toulouse have named a typically star-studded team. They are missing the great Yannick Jauzion due to injury but still can name a backline with stars like Cedric Heymans, Vincent Clerc, Clement Poitrenaud, Florian Fritz and Kelleher. Fly-half was expected to be a problem area for them this year but young Valentin Courrent has come in and made the position his own with a series of excellent displays.

The pack is also full of big names like Fabien Pelous, Yannick Nyanga and Thierry Dusatoir. Shaun Sowerby has a fine acquisition at number eight and he's provided some real direction and power from the base of the scrum. The experienced front row of Daan Humann, William Servat and Poux did a number on Leinster in the scrum in the away fixture and the home scrum will need to be at it's very best, especially with Ollie Le Roux out through injury. Gregory Lamboley is also a quality replacement for the injured Patricio Albacete in the second row.

So it's a big ask for Leinster tomorrow, but with the right motivation from the crowd, they can win. It mightn't earn them qualification but it would keep their faint hopes alive and it would still be a proud moment for any Irish province to beat a team of this quality.

Team Lineups
  Leinster Rugby   Stade Toulousain
Teams Girvan Dempsey 15 Clement Poitrenaud
Luke Fitzgerald 14 Vincent Clerc
Brian O'Driscoll (C) 13 Florian Fritz
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Maleli Kunavore
Rob Kearney 11 Cedric Heymans
Felipe Contepomi 10 Valentin Courrent
Chris Keane 9 Byron Kelleher
Stan Wright 1 Daan Human
Bernard Jackman 2 William Servat
Stephen Knoop 3 Jean-Baptiste Poux
Leo Cullen 4 Gregory Lamboley
Malcolm O'Kelly 5 Fabien Pelous (C)
Shane Jennings 6 Yannick Nyanga
Keith Gleeson 7 Thierry Dusatoir
Jamie Heaslip 8 Shaun Sowerby
Replacements Brian Blaney 16 Virgile Lacombe
Cian Healy 17 Salvatore Perugini
Cameron Jowitt 18 Romain Millo-Chlusky
Stephen Keogh 19 Jean Bouilhou
Guy Easterby 20 Jean-Baptiste Elissalde
Jonathan Sexton 21 Gaffie du Toit
Gary Brown 22 Yves Donguy
Not Considered
due to Injury
Shane Horgan
Ollie Le Roux
Fergus McFadden
Chris Whitaker
Officials Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Sub Referee: Sean Davey (RFU)
Touch Judge: Robin Goodliffe (RFU)
4th Official: Des Woods (ARLB)
5th Official: Mark Gargan (ARLB)
TMO: David Matthews (RFU)
Citing Commissioner: Alan Mansell (RFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-01-14