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Leinster Rugby vs Stade Toulousain
European Champions Cup Semi-final
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 15:00

TV: Live: BT Sports

Leinster got the job done in the first half last week away to Leicester. Then in the second half it was just about keeping Leicester at bay which they did convincingly enough for the most part. Some were critical of the overall Leinster performance but a proud Leicester team was always going to have a decent spell in possession. And the tough second half when Leinster had to dig in and produce big defensive moments will battle-harden them more than scoring another twenty points in a handy win. It should stand to them for the tough fight they face against Toulouse tomorrow afternoon.

Last week the question was how good Leicester actually were. That certainly isn't the question this week as the current champions Toulouse are a team of the highest quality. However there are questions to be asked of how good their form this season is. Toulouse are sixth in the Top 14 this season having lost eleven games. They also lost to a pretty average Wasps side in Europe which along with the game conceded to Cardiff because of Covid put them in the bottom half of the draw for the knock-out stages. Ulster really should have knocked them out in the last sixteen but late tries in both legs saved Toulouse. Arguably Munster should have beaten them last week in the Aviva too.

Munster were leading by ten points with less than fifteen minutes left and Joey Carbery had uncharacteristically left some points behind him too which could have put Munster more than two converted tries ahead. Toulouse were demolishing the Munster scrum, but were losing the battle at the breakdown. But Toulouse showed their character to get the scores to bring it to extra-time. Both teams looked out on their feet in extra time and though Toulouse prevailed in the penalty kick competition, you'd wonder if they have recovered enough this week.

Toulouse and Leinster last met in the 2018-19 season when they were in the same pool. Toulouse won a shoot-out at home but Leinster beat them convincingly at the RDS and again in the semi-final at the Aviva. Both those victories were based on forward dominance and the Toulouse forwards did feature the like of Julien Marchand, Peato Mauvaka, Cyril Baille and Fran├žois Cros who have all gone on to become key members of the French team that won the Grand Slam this season.

So can Leinster dominate up front again? Well a key man for Toulouse could be Emmanuel Meafou who at 145 kg and 6 ft 8 is the kind of Will Skelton type "Big Man" that Leinster traditionally struggle against. He was the power base behind the scrum dominance last week and Leinster will need to find a way to deal with him. Toulouse head coach Ugo Mola has made three changes to the starting team from last week.

Cyril Baille comes in to start at loosehead prop alongside skipper Julien Marchand and Dorian Aldegheri at tighthead. Rory Arnold and Meafou are the second rows and Anthony Jelonch comes in to start at number eight which means Francois Cros moves to openside and Rynhardt Elstadt completes the back row. In the backs there is just the one change as Juan Cruz Mallia comes in on the right wing. Thomas Ramos and the lethal Matthis Lebel complete the back three. Pierre Fouyssac, who did not look convincing in defence last week, and Pita Ahki are the centres. Romain Ntamack and the superb Antoine Dupont are the half-backs.

Leinster's starting fifteen is unchanged from last week and the only change to the match-day squad sees Ciaran Frawley replace the unfortunate Tommy O'Brien, who injured his ACL during the week, on the bench.

Toulouse will target Leinster at the scrum so it's vital Leinster don't get blown away in the early stages. They need to stay in the game and tire out the big Toulouse pack. If that happens, then they should be able to win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Stade Toulousain
Teams Hugo Keenan 15 Thomas Ramos
Jimmy O'Brien 14 Juan Cruz Mallia
Garry Ringrose 13 Pierre Fouyssac
Robbie Henshaw 12 Pita Ahki
James Lowe 11 Matthis Lebel
Johnny Sexton (C)
10 Romain Ntamack
Jamison Gibson-Park 9 Antoine Dupont

Andrew Porter 1 Cyril Baille
Ronan Kelleher 2 Julien Marchand (C)
Tadhg Furlong 3 Dorian Aldegheri
Ross Molony 4 Rory Arnold
James Ryan 5 Emmanuel Meafou
Caelan Doris 6 Rynhardt Elstadt
Josh van der Flier 7 Francois Cros
Jack Conan 8 Anthony Jelonch

Replacements Dan Sheehan 16 Peato Mauvaka
Cian Healy 17 Rodrigue Neti
Michael Ala'alatoa 18 David Ainu'u
Joe McCarthy 19 Joe Tekori
Rhys Ruddock20 Selevasio Tolofua
Luke McGrath 21 Thibaud Flament
Ross Byrne 22 Martin Page Relo
Ciaran Frawley 23 Zack Holmes

Not Considered
due to Injury
Will Connors,
Dave Kearney,
Conor O'Brien,
Jordan Larmour,
Max Deegan,
James Tracy,
Tommy O'Brien

Officials Referee: Karl Dickson (England),
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley (England), Anthony Woodthorpe (England),
TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2022-05-13