Game of the week preview – Leinster v Toulouse

Max Chesterton
10 January 2019

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The European Champions Cup is set for an all-out clash of the titans as Guinness PRO14 leaders Leinster vie for top spot against Pool 1 leaders Toulouse.

Only a solitary point separated the two teams on their last meeting and victory for either side on Saturday could see the oppositions quarter-final ambitions go up in smoke.

With Leinster targeting a record fifth Heineken Champion Cup crown – Leo Cullen’s men will have to perform to their maximum to see off the four-time European victors.

What’s at stake?

Only two points separate Pool 1 leaders Toulouse and second-placed Leinster after the French Top 14 outfit edged out the Leinstermen in October.

With the five group winners being guaranteed a spot in the knockout rounds, both sides will throw everything they’ve got into this Saturday showdown at the RDS Arena.

Leinster won’t want to be in a position where their progress relies on the fortunes of other clubs elsewhere in the competition, so there’s an added incentive to clinch the spoils this weekend.

Form so far?

Aside from the defeat to Toulouse, Leinster have shown exactly why they lifted the Heineken Champion Cup trophy last campaign by recording three emphatic victories in the competition.

Cullen’s side blitzed Wasps by 52-3 in their curtain-raiser as Luke McGrath and James Lowe both scored two tries in the outing at the RDS.

That was followed by the slim 28-27 defeat to Toulouse, but testament to Leinster’s resolve they quickly bounced back by toppling Bath in successive 17-10 and 42-15 victories.

Domestically no team has been better than the Dubliners this campaign, with Leinster topping Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 by an almighty 19 points – tasting defeat only twice.

But Toulouse are one of just three clubs to have won all four games so far this season in the European competition, along with Saracens and Racing 92.

Also, Leinster’s French opposition are on a run of four consecutive victories, and the last time they enjoyed a longer winning run was between December 2009 and January 2011, which culminated with them lifting the European Cup for the fourth time in 2010.

Last meeting

If Saturday’s meeting is anything like when the pair last met in October, we will be in for a treat as Toulouse left it late to edge out a 28-27 win.

Maxime Medard’s 68th minute intercept score proved the difference as the four-time champions came out on top despite Leinster gaining a slim lead in the second-half after Sean Cronin’s try and Johnny Sexton’s conversion.

Medard had put the Frenchmen well ahead at 14-0 early doors after Thomas Ramos fired three penalties over the posts, but Leinster fought back through Sean O’Brien, James Ryan and the boot of mercurial Sexton.

But Sofiane Guitoune’s try just before the break swung the tie in Toulouse’s favour as Medard swooped to claim the spoils as the clock ticked down.

Head-to-head

The winner between the two sides has alternated in the last nine meetings between Leinster and Toulouse, with the Frenchmen winning five of those encounters to Leinster’s four.

The last time Toulouse faced Leinster in Dublin came all the way back in 2011 as Leinster booked their place in the final of the Heineken Cup in emphatic fashion.

A young Johnny Sexton showed his admiration for the big occasion – notching up an emphatic 22 points to help seal a stunning 32-23 victory.

The victory gained revenge for the Leinstermen after Toulouse ejected them out the competition at the semi-final stage in the previous year.

Ominously, history appears on Leinster’s side with Toulouse losing each of their last four games away to Irish opposition, with three of those defeats coming by margins of more than 20 points.

What they said:

Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster said: “They are an outstanding counter-attacking team.

“The challenge we had over in Toulouse was that we gave them a head start at 14-0 and we came back at 27-21 before they got the intercept try.

“It was very tight over there, but one thing stuck in my mind was the intensity of the atmosphere and that’s one thing that we need at the RDS this weekend.

“The boys love playing there and in terms of European Rugby, this is the premier game this weekend. You have got the team that has won it four-times against the team that has won it four-times.

“Both teams are going well in their own individual domestic competitions – it’s a cracker really.”

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