In a repeat of last season’s semi-final clash, Leinster and Toulouse once again lock horns in the last four of the Heineken Cup – but on this occasion the Leo Cullen-led province have home advantage.
HEINEKEN CUP SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, April 30
LEINSTER v TOULOUSE, Aviva Stadium, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/highlights RTE 2)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Toulouse in Saturday afternoon’s Heineken Cup semi-final at the Aviva Stadium has been named.
Gordon D’Arcy takes his place in the Leinster midfield for the visit of the defending champions Toulouse, who beat Leinster at this stage last year.
D’Arcy partners Brian O’Driscoll in a team which is unchanged from the side that defeated Leicester Tigers 17-10 in the recent quarter-final at home.
Eoin Reddan links up at half-back with the tournament’s top points scorer, Jonathan Sexton (88 points), with Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa completing the back-line.
There are six Ireland internationals in a pack which includes skipper Leo Cullen and Ireland props Cian Healy and Mike Ross.
The fit-again Shane Jennings takes his place amongst a strong replacements bench for this sell-out encounter.
Meanwhile, Toulouse boss Guy Noves has made five changes in personnel to the side that accounted for Bourgoin 33-0 in the French Championship last weekend.
Florian Fritz and Clement Poitrenaud are paired together at centre, with the experienced Yannick Jauzion named on the replacements bench.
William Servat comes in for Virgile Lacombe at hooker, whil Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles have been added to the back row. Cub captain Thierry Dusautoir, who is working his way back from an ankle injury, and Shaun Sowerby are the players to make way.
With Byron Kelleher and Nicolas Vergallo currently sidelined, the 20-year-old Jean-Marc Doussain will continue at scrum half, providing the service for the defending champions’ top scorers in this season’s competition – David Skrela (84 points).
Flanker Jean Bouilhou will captain the side, with head coach Guy Noves explaining: “Jean has been among the captains for years at Toulouse. Several players can do the job.
“He has been one of the two captains with Thierry (Dusautoir), but the latter has just returned (from injury) and I think he has greater need to concentrate on his own game rather than the requirements of this role among the group.”
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Nathan Hines, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Heinke van der Merwe, Stan Wright, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.
TOULOUSE: Cedric Heymans; Vincent Clerc, Florian Fritz, Clement Poitrenaud, Maxime Medard; David Skrela, Jean-Marc Doussain; Jean-Baptiste Poux, William Servat, Census Johnston, Yoann Maestri, Patricio Albacete, Jean Bouilhou (capt), Yannick Nyanga, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Virgile Lacombe, Daan Human, Johnson Falefa, Thierry Dusautoir, Nicolas Bezy, Yannick Jauzion, Shaun Sowerby, Gregory Lamboley.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes, Stuart Terheege (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 4/11; Draw: 20/1; Toulouse to win: 11/5
Pre-Match Quotes: Joe Schmidt (Leinster) – “Of course we are happy where we are. We are in a position 20 other teams would love to be in.
“But we want to go one better than last year. We have had a good season and the build-up has been good, but we will be judged on our 80-minute performance on Saturday. Proof is in the performance.
“We have had a good week and it’s great to have a full squad of players, apart from a couple of long term injuries. It’s a good feeling to have a selection headache!
“At this level you need that and especially when you face Toulouse as you know they will field 23 Internationals.
“Toulouse have been going along very well and have been performing in the Top 14. They top that at the moment and they have been very vocal about doing the double and this is a great opportunity for them.”
Shaun Sowerby (Toulouse) – “In my opinion there are only a couple of teams in Europe that you could class as a complete side – and Leinster are one of those teams.
“They have a good pack that can dominate, talent out wide, and the experience and the know-how to win games.
“They are a big European side who have represented themselves well this season, as they have done over the last couple of years.
“We all saw their quarter-final win against Leicester Tigers, it is on all of the computers down at the training ground, and now we will sit down and fully focus on the match and on Leinster.
“We are extremely familiar with them, we have met them a lot over the last few seasons so we know what they are all about. They are technically spot on, they play with pace and intensity and we have to be ready for that.
“Home advantage is huge at this stage and of course the fans will all be right behind Leinster but as the away side we will have to thrive off the atmosphere and make the best out of it.”
Current Form – Leinster – (Magners League): Won 26-16 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 24-23 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 17-10 at home to Leicester Tigers; (Magners League): Won 34-26 at home to Ulster; Won 20-8 away to Aironi Rugby
Toulouse – (Top 14 Championship): Lost 43-21 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 25-24 away to Perpignan; (Heineken Cup): Won 27-20 away to Biarritz Olympique (after extra-time); (Top 14 Championship): Lost 21-9 away to Toulon; Won 33-0 at home to Bourgoin
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 88; Tries: Sean O’Brien 4; Toulouse – Points: David Skrela 84; Tries: Thierry Dusautoir 4
Previous European Meetings: 8
Saturday, May 1, 2010 – Semi-final – Toulouse 26 Leinster 16, Stade Municipal
Saturday, January 12, 2008 – Pool 6 – Leinster 20 Toulouse 13, the RDS
Sunday, November 18, 2007 – Pool 6 – Toulouse 33 Leinster 6, Stade Ernest Wallon
Saturday, April 1, 2006 – Quarter-Final – Toulouse 35 Leinster 41, Stade Municipal
Sunday, January 13, 2002 – Pool 6 – Toulouse 43 Leinster 7, Stade Municipal
Friday, September 28, 2001 – Pool 6 – Leinster 40 Toulouse 10, Donnybrook
Saturday, October 11, 1997 – Pool A – Toulouse 38 Leinster 19, Stade Ernest Wallon
Saturday, September 6, 1997 – Pool A – Leinster 25 Toulouse 34, Donnybrook
Heineken Cup Records:
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the semi Finals
1996/97: Reached the semi-finals