Two European forces will collide on Sunday at the Aviva Stadium as Leinster and Toulouse battle it out to see who will go and contest for that highly coveted fifth star.
The Heineken Champions Cup semi-final sees the holders go up against one of the continent’s form teams.
Form is a word that seems to be following the French giants around a lot in the lead-up to this weekend’s semi-final and it’s no surprise. They lead the way in the Top 14 having won 17 of their 22 games and have lost just four games all season both domestically and in Europe.
All in, Toulouse have played 28 games this season, winning 22, losing four and drawing two.
Leinster are similar in that regard to their French counterparts. They’ve long secured a home semi-final in the Guinness PRO14 having won 15 of their 20 games in Conference B. Leo Cullen’s side have played 27 games so far this season, winning 21 losing five with just a solitary draw against Benetton two weeks ago.
Both sides have been impressive in attack all season. Leinster have racked up 863 points in the league and in Europe while Toulouse have scored an impressive 775. However, it is in the defence where Leinster seem to have the upper hand conceding just 376 compared to Toulouse’s 757.
While the scoring average of Leinster is 287-points better than Toulouse, to rule out this exciting French side would be very foolish. While Leinster may have toppled them quite convincingly at the RDS back in January, Toulouse still posed a very big threat.
Following today’s captain’s run, Leo Cullen waxed lyrical about the French side’s attacking prowess.
“(Antoine) Dupont is someone that seems to always get picked whether that’s at nine or 10. It looked like they were trying to accommodate (Sébastien) Bézy into the team. We were making some judgement calls on what we’ve seen.
“(Sofiane) Guitoune has been an ever-present at 13, (Thomas) Ramos again, they want him in the team wherever he plays, whether that’s 15 or 10, so they’ve rejigged quite a bit. (Cheslin) Kolbe again is another one that’s in that bracket of always being in the team whether it’s on the wing or at 15 depending on who else plays. (Yoann) Huget or (Maxime) Medard depending on what their needs are and (Pita) Ahki is probably the one that a lot of people wouldn’t have seen that selection but it is one that we would have prepped for pretty extensively.”
The Aviva turf should suit this exciting backfield tomorrow but Leinster in many ways have made the national stadium a fortress for themselves.
There have been questions asked of Leinster in recent weeks given their draw with Benetton and defeat to Glasgow last weekend at the RDS, however, it is important to note that they had a playoff berth wrapped up a long time ago.
A lot has been said about what may have happened in the quarter-final had Jacob Stockdale grounded the ball. Leinster didn’t reach the heights of last year on that occasion but much of that was down to Ulster putting in a performance that they’ll be talking about for years to come up in Belfast.
Despite the French side’s attacking threat being suited to the Landsdowne Road venue, Leinster have made the national stadium somewhat of a fortress.
Toulouse have had a fine season and rightly dine among the top teams in rugby once more but at the minute, it’s Leinster’s world and we’re all just living in it.