Leinster v Toulouse preview: Using recent Champions Cup hurt as motivation will be inevitable for Leinster

No match-up in club rugby could provide such a clash of scrum-halves and hookers

Leinster v Stade Toulousain
  • Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
  • Kick-off: 2.45pm
  • On TV: Live on RTÉ and TNT Sport

There are finals and, well, there are finals. Leinster and La Rochelle broke new ground by providing the first back-to-back final pairings, now comes perhaps the grandest of all between European rugby’s grandees.

This is their 15th meeting in the tournament’s history, including a quarter-final and five semi-finals, and they are both making a joint record eighth final appearance. It is a wonder how the five- and four-time winners have never met in a decider before.

The Champions Cup undoubtedly features the best two teams in Europe, both over the history of this competition and in current times. It is a pairing befitting such an eye-catching, state-of-the-art stadium, which has not yet seen an elite European sports event quite like this.

Glitterati abounds. No matchup in club rugby could provide such a clash of scrumhalves and hookers alone. Leinster and Toulouse are bulk suppliers to Ireland and France at a point in history when they are the dominant forces in European rugby.


It is hard not hard to over-hype this game, or overstate its importance for Leinster, as this could not only be season-defining but era-defining. By teatime they’ll have lost three successive finals, leaving them with a mountain of regrets, or claimed a fifth star, and a first for many of this group. This would banish much of the defeats in the last play by La Rochelle in Marseilles two years ago and of losing from a 23-7 lead after half-an-hour last year.

Given the ex-pats this should be more of a home final, although how many of the 62,000-plus seats will be taken up remains to be seen given the exorbitant cost of flights.

While using that recent hurt as motivation will be inevitable, Leinster cannot allow it to inhibit them. Sometimes with Leinster you wonder if they even want that fifth star.

The decision to hire Jacques Nienaber and shift toward their defence will also, or will not, be vindicated today. Worryingly, the attack hasn’t flowed as in the last two seasons, and that sits a little uncomfortably.

As with the pool win in La Rochelle and more so the 40-13 quarter-final victory, clearly Nienaber’s hand has been all over this selection. Hence, aside from the reassuring reappearance of Hugo Keenan, Leinster have reverted to their quarter-final line-up by recalling Jason Jenkins and Will Connors, and reverting to a 6-2 bench.

James Ryan is now part of the Bomb Squad along with Josh van der Flier and Jack Conan, meaning the unlucky Ross Molony misses out (as does Harry Byrne). Leinster look altogether better equipped to see out the game compared with the last two finals or the semi-final three weeks ago.

Were Leinster to win, they would draw alongside Toulouse on five stars, and sleep a little easier.

“We’ve a huge amount of respect for what Toulouse have achieved over the course of many years because when this tournament began, Toulouse were the team quickest out of the blocks at the start of professionalism and we’ve always admired lots of what they do,” head coach Leo Cullen said.

While Leinster have won the last four meetings, and five of the six knock-out clashes, Toulouse belong in finals and usually win them, having done so on their last eight in the Champions Cup or French Championship dating back to 2008.

With ex-lock Joe Tekori blasting out some tunes, they oozed confidence for their captain’s run, mostly a relaxed game of nine-a-side football.

Discipline has been their buzz word as they seek to deny Leinster territorial access akin to the 40-17 and 41-22 wins in the last two semi-finals.

“First of all, it’s not a semi-final any more,” head coach Ugo Mola said.

“We’re not playing at their home ground, it’s neutral. That will be a factor to make us feel more optimistic. We respect Leinster, they are incredible and have 90 per cent of the Ireland team. We don’t need to preview them too much, we know them. We focus only on ourselves and we have developed our approach for the game.”

It is one of those games where one can make a plausible case for either side. Toulouse have a much more potent attacking form. Behind their array of carriers and offloaders, Antoine Dupont can open up any team, and Romain Ntamack is back with his old swagger, albeit they have chosen Blair Kinghorn ahead of Thomas Ramos, who is much more proven, not least as a goal kicker.

They possess game breakers, especially in transition, and their footwork is off the charts, but their starter plays largely revolve around launching Pita Ahki off lineouts and scrums. Nienaber’s defence will know this.

Keenan adds another dimension to the Leinster attack which has, admittedly, performed much more fitfully this season but has produced some of its best rugby in bigger games, particularly against La Rochelle in the quarter-finals.

Then, Jamison Gibson-Park pulled the strings ingeniously ala le petit general, Ross Byrne took the ball to the line and landed all bar one of his kicks. No matches were bigger than the clashes with La Rochelle, on a whole variety of levels, and those displays suggest Leinster are primed for another 80-minute performance of that ilk.

Perhaps even better.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw, Jamie Osborne, James Lowe; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Joe McCarthy, Jason Jenkins, Ryan Baird, Will Connors, Caelan Doris (capt).

Replacements: Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, James Ryan, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Ciaran Frawley, Josh van der Flier.

Stade Toulousain: Blair Kinghorn; Juan Cruz Mallia, Paul Costes, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (capt); Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Dorian Aldegheri, Thibaud Flament, Emmanuel Meafou, Jack Willis, François Cros, Alexandre Roumat.

Replacements: Julien Marchand, Rodrigue Neti, Joel Merkler, Richie Arnold, Joshua Brennan, Paul Graou, Santiago Chocobares, Thomas Ramos.

Referee: Matthew Carley (England).

Head-to-head: Played 12, Leinster 8 wins, Toulouse 6 wins.

Forecast: Leinster to win.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times