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Leinster Rugby vs Stade Toulousain
Heineken Champions Cup, Pool A
RDS Area, Ballsbridge, Dublin,
Saturday, 12th January 2019, 13:00

TV: Live on BT Sports, Virgin Media 1 (that's TV3 in old money), Channel 4

This is it, the biggest game of the season so far!

Ever since Leinster lost in Toulouse on a Sunday afternoon in October this is the game we've been waiting for. That day Toulouse seemed to rediscover the spirit of their great sides of the 90's and 00's. They played some great rugby and scored some dazzling tries. They were deserved winners and yet Leinster really should have won that game. They survived the bad start to put themselves in a winning position but an unfortunate intercept tilted the game back to Toulouse. For the supporters who were there, the general agreement was that Leinster would stuff them when we got them back at the RDS in January.

Eleven weeks later however there wouldn't quite be the same level of confidence though. The home team have been wrecked with injuries and the win over Leinster has served as something of a blood transfusion for Toulouse. Since that win they've been unbeaten, winning eight games and drawing away to Top 14 leaders Clermont, hardly a bad result in itself. Leinster had hoped Wasps might have done them a favour in their double-header and Wasps certainly put it up to them but Toulouse played well to win both games and retain a two point lead in the pool going into this match.

Toulouse know a win will secure them the pool and a likely home quarter-final so they will travel with massive motivation. And unlike a lot of French teams, they seem to turn up on their travels. The backs are playing some great rugby with a heady mixture of youth in Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos and experience in Sofiane Guitoune, Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard. But they've also got some serious beef in the pack in the shape of Charlie Faumuina, Joe Tekori and Selevasio Tolofua plus more promising youngsters in Julien Marchand, Dorian Aldegheri and Florian Verhaeghe. The great All Black Jerome Kaino, who missed the first game through suspension, is available this week.

Kaino is named at number eight in a team that is bristling with talent. He's joined by Francois Cros and Rynhardt Elstadt in the back row. Clement Castets, skipper Julien Marchand and Charlie Faumuina are the front row while Richie Arnold and Joe Tekori form the second row.

Maxime Medard, the hero of the first match, is named at full back with the lethal Springbok Cheslin Kolbe and French international Yoann Huget named on the wings. Sofiane Guitoune and Romain Ntamack have been brilliant in the centres this season and the metronomic kicker Thomas Ramos is named at out-half with Antoine Dupont at scrum-half.

So Leinster are up against it and their chances weren't improved when the news leaked earlier in the week that skipper Johnny Sexton and lineout maestro Devin Toner would miss the game through injury. With the likes of Sean O'Brien and Robbie Henshaw already out and James Lowe suspended that's five key men missing and the news didn't get any better when it was revealed today that Rob Kearney and Dan Leavy are also out.

And yet in some ways Leinster come into this game in the perfect frame of mind. The first choice team's last outing was the poor, undisciplined performance away to Munster and they will have been simmering for the last two weeks just waiting for the chance to make amends. They need to come out firing in the exact same manner Toulouse did in the first game. While Toulouse would love to win this game they know a bonus point win next week will earn them a second place finish at the least and qualification from the pool. So Leinster need to disabuse them of the notion that this is a must-win game by making it brutally tough on them from the start and playing a tight direct game.

Leo Cullen has named Ross Byrne at number 10 in place of Sexton. It's a big test of the young man but for the most part this season he's played with quiet assurance. Luke McGrath is his half-back partner. With Rob Kearney out Jordan Larmour starts in the number 15 jersey with Adam Byrne on the right wing and Dave Kearney fit again to start on the left. Rory O'Loughlin and Garry Ringrose resume their centre partnership.

The front row sees Cian Healy, Sean Cronin and Tadhg Furlong scrum down with Scott Fardy and James Ryan behind in the engine room. The back row features captain Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan at No. 8. On the bench Conor O'Brien is in line to make his European debut having been added to the squad this week.

A Saturday lunch-time kick-off doesn't normally make for a great atmosphere but the RDS will be buzzing for this one. These are the sorts of games people will be in their seats or spots on the terrace early. Hopefully the crowd will recreate the atmosphere of the Montpellier match last season or the Racing Metro match in 2010 which took place at the same timeslot.

Racing arrived at the RDS that day with a big rep and Leinster smashed them in a match that heralded Joe Schmidt's arrival as a force in Irish rugby.

Let's hope history repeats itself tomorrow!

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Stade Toulousain
Teams Jordan Larmour 15 Maxime Medard
Adam Byrne 14 Cheslin Kolbe
Garry Ringrose 13 Sofiane Guitoune
Rory O'Loughlin 12 Romain Ntamack
Dave Kearney 11 Yoann Huget
Ross Byrne 10 Thomas Ramos
Luke McGrath 9 Antoine Dupont

Cian Healy 1 Clement Castets
Sean Cronin 2 Julien Marchand (C)
Tadhg Furlong 3 Charlie Faumuina
Scott Fardy 4 Richie Arnold
James Ryan 5 Joe Tekori
Rhys Ruddock (C)
6 Francois Cros
Josh van der Flier 7 Rynhardt Elstadt
Jack Conan
8 Jerome Kaino

Replacements James Tracy
16 Peato Mauvaka
Ed Byrne 17 Cyril Baille
Andrew Porter
18 Dorian Aldegheri
Ross Molony 19 Piula Faasalele
Max Deegan 20
Louis Madaule
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Alban Placines
Noel Reid 22 Sebastien Bezy
Conor O'Brien 23 Zack Holmes

Not Considered
due to Injury
Will Connors,
Fergus McFadden,
Joe Tomane,
Sean O'Brien,
Robbie Henshaw,
Nick McCarthy,
Hugo Keenan,
Rob Kearney,
Jonathan Sexton,
Devin Toner,
Dan Leavy

Officials Referee: Luke Pearce (England),
Assistant referees: Tom Foley (England), Jonathan Healy (England)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2019-01-11