Friday, May 13, 2022

Preview : Leinster v Toulouse


Our task as Leinster fans this Saturday is simple.

WEAR. BLUE.

This season's quest for Leinster's fifth star has to involve exorcising the demons from seasons past - since the fourth was won in 2018 we have fallen at each of the last three hurdles.

Which means last weekend's controlled victory at Welford Road took care of our 2020 campaign, where we fell at the quarterfinal stage to a Premiership outfit, the same one that had our number in the final the year before. Hopefully we'll be able to tick that final box, but only if we can first avenge what happened last season, when it was a Top 14 side ending our hopes in the final four.

Obviously it was no fun going back and finding links to those three defeats, but I honestly believe that those are what have been guiding our European progress this season, with the boys in blue managing to find a very high base level of performance so far no matter what the opposition.

And if the consensus is true that it was European experience that made the difference at Welford Road last Saturday, then that is something on which we most certainly cannot rely this time, as Toulouse know a thing or five about winning this competition themselves.

However...there is one area where we have the advantage. Last year the semifinal was played in La Rochelle. Now we're on our home turf. And of course this means as fans we can wear blue from top to bottom, inside to out, with hats, scarves, flags and anything to help create the Leinsterest of Leinster atmospheres.

Still not motivated? Have a brand new jacket or hoody you've been dying to wear and think nobody will notice it isn't blue? Right then - how about the amazing job the Munster fans did the week before turning the place red??? Come on lads and lasses, we simply have to beat that.

EVERYTHING. MUST. BE. BLUE.

They generally ask for a #SeaOfBlue. But what we need on Saturday is a tsunami.

Because if we do our bit, the lads will know we're behind them as they try to topple the reigning champions. And nothing makes a better statement that we're ready than an unchanged starting XV, and it probably would have been an unchanged 23 but for one unfortunate incident in training during the week.

So let's go through the lineup shall we...

BACKS

Have to say since I switched to this preview format I haven't been faced with a situation like this one...exactly the same Leinster back line, playing after a week when they played almost exactly like I hoped they would!!! So what do I say here then?

Well for one thing the change of opposition has to be noted, and a key area for us could well be our back three. On big trick that was missed by the Tigers last week was making quick hay on turnover ball...this week I very much doubt the likes of Antoine Dupont will do the same. With even the slightest hint of transition in our defence he will either have a snipe himself or sent us turning back towards our own line with a little kick over the top and we have to be ready.

But for all the justified hype over their number 9, our own has been just as crucial to our performances with the ball and I'm sure he will be just as keen to make hay should the chance arise, while Johnny Sexton will no doubt play his role to the fullest whether it be out half or captain.

And what's this about Jimmy O'Brien getting his 50th Leinster cap already? Isn't he just out of the academy? Well it seems like that anyway although you wouldn't know him by the way he's played he absolutely 100% belongs in this 15 despite being ahead of more than one international in the pecking order.

I haven't even mentioned James Lowe yet. Or Robbie. Or Garry. Simply put, this is our ideal backline.

FORWARDS

This week is also a different proposition for our forwards, who will have to contend with a pack that operates a ruck speed that might be even quicker than ours. But it has to be said we're just as capable of operating under those conditions.

And if you had asked me towards the beginning the season I may have had Ryan Baird in our second row ahead of Ross Molony, but it has to be said that Ross has been an absolute workhorse, literally powering his way into a starting role that I wouldn't take off him now whomever else was available.

We definitely won't want a drop in standards in our set pieces from last week, although in the lineout in particular they were really high, especially in the crucial first attacking one that led to van der Flier's try. And after more than holding our own in the scrum department last time around after fears we might have issues, we now have the likes of Cyrill Baille to contend with.

But again we have Tadhg. And James. And Caelan. And Josh. And Jack. Simply put, this is our ideal pack.

BENCH

First of all we have to give our best wishes to Tommy O'Brien - all injuries are awful but to get one in training that ends your campaign, when you're playing at the top of your game and have made Leinster's European 23 at the business end of the season, is a tragedy. Yet another motivation for the rest of the lads to win the trophy I guess!

But the 23 jersey he has been forced to relinquish is one that had a lot of competition, with Jordan Larmour back to fitness he was always in the frame but still next down the pecking order simply had to be Ciaran Frawley and he will slot in to our systems just fine when called upon.

In the pack, Joe McCarthy didn't get much game time last week and the plan might be for a similar cameo here but he's another who will be ready if needed. Then there's our sub front row which did so well against the likes of Ellis Genge last time around, their importance cannot be understated.

Overall our bench defensive display in Leicester was mostly as impressive as it has been all season - despite our hosts' late try we positively bullied the ball back off them from the restart to win it back and kill the clock, and I have a feeling this one will be even closer come the closing stages.

OPPOSITION

They're the reigning champions. They have already earned that very fifth star which we now crave. They have a decent slice of the current Grand Slam winners, including their halfbacks one of which was voted Player of the Tournament. And whatever about their 100 minute slog last weekend, you can be sure they will be ready.

But however wary they might be of us, everyone who knows rugby will know the reverse also applies. I've already compared halfbacks but also they have Ramos, we have Hugo. They have Lebel, we have Lowe. They have Ahki, we have Robbie. They have Rory Arnold at the lineouts, we have James Ryan.

That formula pretty much works all the way through the 23, which means Saturday afternoon will come down to how they play together, and if our past six European outings are anything to go by (still finding it hard to let go of that seventh we were denied even if we made the semis regardless!) that shouldn't be a problem.

PREDICTION

I'm quietly confident...well, hang on, if I'm publishing my confident on a blog I guess it's not being that quiet but you get the idea...but when I see the bookies having us as 10-point favourites I can't help but wince!

Maybe it doesn't help that not only is it Friday the 13th as I type but I also bought a few things in a shop earlier today which came to precisely €6.66 so it's possible I shouldn't be tempting fate too much when it comes to predictions.

Still, as ever with knockout matches any fan would be happy with a one point win and if we continue in the same vein as we have shown throughout this European campaign I'd have to say we can at least do that.

WHERE TO WATCH

Little sidebar....on Thursday I shared a tweet from a Huw Griffin where he answered a question posed by BT Sport "What's the hardest part of rugby?" to which he answered "Trying to watch it..." and he proceeded to list all the different broadcasters, several of which require subscription fees. It was a really good answer, sent to exactly those who need to hear it, and I was surprised by the overall engagement.

But ironically, for this semifinal, if anything there isn't enough coverage, because while BT Sport are the only ones screening the match into Ireland, their focus is always more towards Premiership clubs. So if I complained about their programme of this match only starting 15 minutes before kickoff they might point to the fact that they'll combine it with the match before, but I'd have my doubts since that match involves Wasps, but we'll see how they go.

Of course it's always better to go along yourself if you can, and if you do, maybe I forgot to mention that you should wear blue?

GET INVOLVED IN THE DISCUSSION

I took last week "off" from my usual taking of the notes and composing of the tweets during the match to enjoy a few beers but this time regular order will be restored. Be sure to follow the conversation on twitter before and during, while at the full time whistle you can head on over to our Facebook page and leave your extended thoughts.

Here's to an awesome Saturday afternoon at HQ hope to see you there!!!! JLP

#FromTheGroundUp
#NeverStopCompeting
#DriveForFive

Toulouse : 15. T RAMOS 14. J-C MALLIA 13. P FOUYSSAC 12. P AHKI 11. M LEBEL 10. R NTAMACK 9. A DUPONT
1. C BAILLE 2.J. MARCHAND 3. D ALDEGHERI 4. RO. ARNOLD 5. E. MAFOU 6.R.ELSTADT 7. A JELONCH 8. F.CROS
16. P Mavuaka 17. R Neti 18. D Ainu’u 19. I Tekori 20. S Tolofua 21. T Flament 22. M Page Relo 23. Z Holmes.

Heineken Champions Cup 2021/22 - Semifinal
Saturday, May 14, 2022
Kickoff 3pm 
Aviva Stadium

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
AR1: Christophe Ridley (England)
AR2: Anthony Woodthorpe (England)
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

Broadcasters: BT Sport / beIN SPORTS / France 2


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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019