Quick but not loose could be key to a Leinster triumph in their Champions Cup semi-final against Toulouse

As Europe’s two most successful teams meet at the Aviva Stadium this afternoon, there is already a feeling that either Leinster or Toulouse progressing to the final in Marseille in two weeks’ time will go into that game as favorites to lift the trophy. Toulouse are aiming to become the first team to beat all three Irish sides in the knockout stages, but Leo Cullen’s men will find elements of those 260 minutes against their Irish rivals, when the five-time champions squeezed Ulster and were able to break away. Munster alone by virtue of penalty kicks, instructive in their challenge to end the European champions’ reign.

1. Focus, focus, focus

Speaking after his side’s six-point victory in the first leg of the round of 16 in Toulouse, Ulster manager Dan McFarland reflected that such an advantage meant little in the grand scheme of things given that, with such a variety of offensive talent, Toulouse could erase such a margin in ten seconds of play.

It will not go unnoticed by Leinster that both Munster and Ulster held double-digit leads over the two French winners and still ended up enduring heartbreaking outings, while the strength of the away bench almost made them hold such an advantage heading into the final. stretch an imperative

Last week Munster led by ten in the final quarter of the game, but Toulouse only needs one sniff to rack up points quickly. It was the same in Belfast, where a brief lapse in concentration led to a couple of quick attempts.

For all the understandable attention paid to World Player of the Year Antoine Dupont, it has been Romain Ntamack who has been the chief tormentor for Irish teams so far this season. Whether against Ireland in Paris, Ulster in Toulouse and Belfast or Munster in Dublin, the 23-year-old midfielder has proven time and time again that he only needs to glimpse an opportunity, a split second of defensive indecision. , to exact a huge price from the opposition.

Leinster will know that they must be in their mettle from the first whistle to the last to contain it.

2. Superiority of Scrum

With so many of the same protagonists from the Six Nations meeting between Ireland and England in Leinster’s win over Leicester at Welford Road last Saturday, there was plenty of talk in the build-up to whether the scrum battle would follow the same pattern.

While it was a bit of a lottery, the set piece proved not to be a determining factor in the contest. The same cannot be said for the events in Dublin, where the Toulouse eight were outclassing their Munster counterparts. While Johann van Graan’s side appeared to control things as the game progressed, the final points of the game, which leveled with Toulouse at the end of regulation time, came via another penalty.

Leinster forwards coach Robin McBryde knows what’s coming.

“Looking at the Munster game, they really attacked them at the scrum,” he said. β€œ[Julian] Marchand, Cyril Baille, they have an appetite for scrumagging and as much as we [Ellis] Genge and [Julian] Montoya and Dan Cole, I think there’s a little more to this Toulouse package.

“So yeah, we’re going to have to step up and get better again.”

3. Looking towards the lineout

While Ulster didn’t allow the scrum to be much of an issue in their games with Toulouse, the lineout was important. Ulster relies on its effective rolling maul, but that area of ​​the game was largely nullified by the presence of Rory Arnold, who provided a constant obstacle for the northern province’s prostitutes.

The Aussie, perhaps fortunate to be playing in this game after admitting this week that he feared last week’s tackle on Simon Zebo would lead to a red card, is a threat in the opposition’s shot and there remains a feeling that at Despite all of Ronan Kelleher’s notable attributes, his touch darts are still something of a work.

James Ryan’s return to the Leinster ranks last week clearly made a big difference in his own line-out, pulling off two big steals, and the two Leinster hookers will no doubt be all the more grateful for his presence given the looming threat of Arnold. .

4. Breakout Battles

Ever since they stitched a fourth star onto their jersey in 2018, after which Saracens and La Rochelle proved to be insurmountable obstacles in this competition, there has been much debate as to whether the URC flag bearers have the physical stature to mix it up with the most important of European parcels once we get to the business end of the proceedings.

Toulouse falls squarely into that category as, for all their ball-moving magic, they are a truly abrasive team.

Munster, led by a fantastic backline performance from Peter O’Mahony and others, matched them in the contact area in an effort that produced an incredible 19 turnovers. Ulster, at least in the first leg, offered a warning of what can happen when you lose the battle there. Countered by their own ball with conspicuous regularity in France, it’s almost impossible to get back into your usual groove when you lose the breakout battle like that.

Leinster doesn’t possess the same poaching threat as Munster, but will still need to match Toulouse blow for blow.

5. Pick up the pace

Despite all the weight of Toulouse, however, there remains a feeling that, like some French teams, they are somewhat susceptible to fatigue when the opposition are able to keep playing time high on the ball. Both Ulster and Munster enjoyed their best spells when they played fast but not loose, and Leinster are more than capable of doing the same, especially with Jamison Gibson-Park at nine so quick at the ruck.

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