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Stade Toulousain vs Leinster Rugby
Stade Municipal, Toulouse
Saturday, 1st May 2010, 16:45 (14534 Irish Time)

Television - Live: Sky Sports 3, Highlights RTE2 9.15

"It's on again, Contepomi says 'we'll go'! Hickie! Hickie is racing away and he's going to get past Pelous! He's got to time his pass. D'Arcy! Back to Hickie! Hickie for the corner!!!!!!"

"THAT IS AWESOME!!!"

Once this fixture was set it was inevitable that the famous quarter-final four years ago would be revisited. That remarkable 41-35 win on April fools day in 2006 was the day that Leinster rugby really came of age and Denis Hickie's superb try remains the most memorable moment. Sure, you could make a convincing argument that Brian O'Driscoll's try was an even better score or that Cameron Jowitt's opportunist effort was the turning point of the match. But the sheer majesty of Hickie's length of the field try can't be beaten. It was the moment it really dawned on Toulouse that they were in trouble against a Leinster team they were supposed to beat handily. Their sense of shock was enhanced by the fact that Leinster were not only beating them, but they were doing it by playing the type of dazzling running rugby that Toulouse themselves would have been proud of.

It was the day that the dream of winning a Heineken Cup became real for Leinster and though it took three more years to finally achieve it, it remains the game on which that ambition was based. Nostalgia aside though, Saturday afternoon's match at the Stade Municipal presents a very different challenge for Leinster. Instead of going in as rank outsiders, this time they go into the match as reigning European champions whose triumph was based on rock solid defence and a hard-nosed attitude. Toulouse are still strong favourites but they'll approach Leinster with far more caution this time.

Toulouse are mainly favourites because of their performance in the quarter-final. While Leinster scraped past Clermont by a point, Toulouse demolished Stade Francais 42-16. In truth, Stade Francais had the better of the first half and should really have led at half-time. However, a try by talisman Yannick Jauzion in first half injury time turned the match and they simply destroyed the Parisians in the second half.

The reaction to that performance in the Irish media was that Toulouse were unbeatable and certainly it was a superb performance. However they largely ignored the fact that Toulouse haven't been playing to this standard for most of the season. In fact they've lost ten matches in the Top 14. This meant that they failed to secure a top-two spot and, under the new French play-off system, they'll now need to win three knockout games to win their championship. The new system has drawn the ire of Toulouse coach Guy Noves, who has declared that the Heineken Cup is his now priority, as he feels trying to win both is near impossible with five high intensity knock-out matches in five weeks.

Toulouse's match against Castres last weekend made interesting viewing for Leinster fans. At times Toulouse were electrifying when they got their off-loading game going. It must be said though; the great spells were mixed with some pretty scrappy spells too. Frankly, their form looks a bit patchy at the moment, capable of brilliance no doubt but also capable of looking quite ordinary at times. In other words, they don't look as "unbeatable" as some would lead us to believe.

Nevertheless, they're still a superb collection of players. Most of the back line has been together for years now and along with Jauzion, they have the very familiar names of Vincent Clerc, Cedric Heymans, Florian Fritz, Jean-Bapstiste Elissalde and Clement Poitrenaud. Poitrenaud in particular is having a terrific season. He was seen for a long time as a talented but flaky full-back, but this year he's added real steel to his game to finally establish himself as France's top number fifteen. Another key man will be former All Black scrum-half Byron Kelleher who brings real physicality and serious attitude to the scrum-half position.

Their pack is no less star-studded. Hooker William Servat is another player whose career has been revived this year and he was a major part of France's Grand Slam win. Jean-Bapstiste Poux, Daan Human and Census Johnston are all massively powerful props and in Argentina's Patricio Albacete, they have one of the most mobile second rows in the world.

The backrow is probably their strongest area though as they have real depth there. Thierry Dusautoir is the best flanker in Europe on current form and he's also grown into an inspirational leader. Jean Bouilhou is an unsung hero on the other flank and though he's only ever won a couple of French caps, his selfless work-rate makes him one of the most important players at the club. Louis Picamoles is a new star at number eight but South African Shaun Sowerby is also a fine player. Finau Maka and Yannick Nyanga provide other quality back row options. The talent they can bring off the bench is one of the big factors in their success as they've one of the strongest squads in Europe.

For all that, Leinster coach Michael Cheika will doubtless be enjoying hearing his team's chances being written off. He will be using it to motivate the team as he did so successfully in last season's semi-final. Compared to last season's crazy build-up to that match, this time the hype is at a minimum. Nonetheless, he will be filling his squad's heads with the slights that are coming their way to create a real edge to build their game on.

Leinster will need to reproduce the type of eighty-minute performance that downed Munster in last year's semi-final. That will require bringing serious aggression to the breakdown and reclaiming their reputation as the best defence in Europe. To do this they'll need to smash Toulouse back in the tackle throughout. Jamie Heaslip has taken over from Rocky Elsom as the key man in Leinster's pack and he'll be looking to put in some massive hits to set the tone. They know they can't let them settle into any pattern and they also know they need to be smarter with their discipline than they've been lately.

Defence won't win the match on it's own though and they also know they need to be brave enough to take on the Toulouse backs. In this respect the role of Isa Nacewa will be crucial. His ability to create something from nothing was missed badly against Connacht. That match was the worst performance Leinster have put in this season and it stemmed from having the wrong attitude going into the match. Hopefully it has concentrated minds though and the big name players will be hoping to make up for it on Saturday. Injuries have no doubt affected Leinster's chances, but the fifteen that take the pitch will still have enough quality to get the job done.

Toulouse will be out for revenge for that match four years ago and they'll have a vociferous crowd behind them. The Leinster travelling support would have been a lot bigger had the profiteering lowlifes at the airlines not charged astronomical prices for flights. So it's vital that the three or four thousand supporters that do travel make as much noise as possible. It's a good idea to get into the stadium early to enjoy the pre-match atmosphere with the Toulouse fans and cheer the team bus in.

It's a tough game to call but you feel that whoever wins, there will only be a score in it. Hopefully Leinster can repeat history and make the 1st of May 2010 another day to remember.

ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!

Team Lineups

Stade Toulousain

Leinster Rugby
Teams Clement Poitrenaud
15 Rob Kearney
Vincent Clerc
14 Shane Horgan
Florian Fritz
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Jannick Jauzion
12 Gordon D'Arcy
Cedric Heymans
11 Isa Nacewa
David Skrela
10 Shaun Berne
Byron Kelleher
9 Eoin Reddan

Daan Human
1 Cian Healy
William Servat
2 John Fogarty
Benoit Lecouls
3 Stan Wright
Patricio Albacete
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Romain Millo-Chluski
5 Nathan Hines
Jean Boulhou
6 Kevin McLaughlin
Thierry Dusaut
7 Shane Jennings
Shaun Sowerby
8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Maxime Medard
16 Bernard Jackman
Jean-Baptiste Elissalde
17 CJ van der Linde
Yohan Montes
18 Mike Ross
Jean-Baptiste Poux
19 Malcolm O'Kelly
Virgile Lacombe
20
Stephen Keogh
Yoann Maestri
21 Paul O'Donohoe
Yann David
22 Eoin O'Malley
Louis Picamoles
23 Girvan Dempsey

Not Considered
due to Injury


Luke Fitzgerald
Dave Kearney
Fergus McFadden
Ian McKinley
Sean O'Brien
Jonathan Sexton
Devin Toner

Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Andrew Small (RFU), James Jones (WRU)
4th Official: Nigel Whitehouse (WRU)
5th Official: Hugh Watkins (WRU)
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-04-30

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