Toulouse v Leinster
Heineken Champions Cup
Sunday 21st October, Stade Ernest Wallon @ 3:15 pm
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
TV: BT Sports & eir Sports 1
The reigning Champions issued a massive statement of intent to any would-be challengers last Friday night at the R.D.S. crushing a stingless Wasps side as easily as swatting a fly.
A visit to Stade Ernest Wallon this Sunday offers a further opportunity to lay a marker to any would-be challengers to their crown. Toulouse are the original aristocrats of European rugby, the most decorated side in the history of the tournament, until last May when Leinster also joined them at the top of the role of honour after adding their fourth title in Bilbao.
On Wednesday I read Gordon D’Arcy’s article in the Irish Times where he referenced Leinster’s 2006 quarter-final win over the previous season’s champions, Toulouse, at the same venue they visit on Sunday. It was a seminal victory that gave that Leinster group of players the confidence that they could compete with, and beat, the best side in Europe. Unfortunately for them, they were unable to beat the best team in Ireland that season as they fell to a Munster side, who went on to lift the title, in that year’s semi-final. But his point was that it was a pivotal moment in the development of that side. Many of those players went on to form the nucleus of the Leinster sides that won the trophy three times in 2009 and 2011 & 12.
The current Toulouse side is no Midi-Pyrenees vintage, they are still rebuilding after the end of Guy Novés’ 22 year tenure. They suffered a similar decline to Manchester United after Alex Ferguson’s departure. After a few years in the wilderness, Fabien Pelous is rebuilding a young side with local talent complemented with some older experience. However, they lack the sprinkling of stardust and ‘joie de vivre’ of those majestic all-conquering sides of old. Toulouse teams containing players such as Thomas Castaignéde, Lionel Beauxis, Yannick Bru, Vincent Clerc, Thierry Dusautoir, Fabien Pelous and even Leinster’s own Trevor Brennan played with a mixture of skill, panache and ferocity that few sides could live with.
A while Fabien Pelous’ current side may not be at that level yet, Leo Cullen and Leinster will be aware that a win here over Toulouse will be an important statement. That famous win in 2006 was Leinster’s only victory over Toulouse in France, having tasted defeat in their three other meetings on French soil. With five points in the bag and Wasps and Bath already having tasted defeat in round 1, victory will also give Leinster complete control of Pool 1.
The 22-20 win over Bath last Saturday came at a cost to Toulouse and they will be without both Jerome Kaino and Lucas Pointud who were both suspended after being cited for dangerous play.
Leo Cullen has made just a single change to last weeks starting side, Joe Tomane is given his first European start for Leinster and will come in on the wing, while Jordan Larmour will move to full-back to cover for the injured Rob Kearney.
The home side can be backed at 4/1, visitors Leinster are best priced at 4/11 and the draw is on offer from 33/1. The handicap market sees Toulouse available at +8, but while it won’t be as comfortable as last weeks stroll in the park, I expect Leinster to cover this spread and win with 10 points to spare.