Heineken Cup Preview: French duo eye Euro final
In 2006 Leinster pulled off what was possibly their greatest victory in their European history as they went to Toulouse and humiliated the reigning champions in their own back yard.
Two rounds later it was Munster who finally overcame their demons by beating Biarritz at the Millennium Stadium to win their first European crown.
In the four years since, things have certainly changed. Talismanic captains like Anthony Foley, Thomas LiÃƒÂ¨vremont and Fabien Pelous have retired, and Jonathan Sexton, Keith Earls and Maxime MÃƒÂ©dard have all brought new life to their teams, but will we see the same outcome as four years ago?
First to Saturday where the reigning champions Leinster return to the site of their historic quarter final victory. That day they were cheered off the pitch by both sets of fans after a breathtaking performance. With poor weather expected in Toulouse tomorrow, a repeat seems unlikely. Both teams have strong defences, so a tight encounter would appear to be on the cards.
Toulouse have had an inconsistent season, but it is a testament to the richness of their squad that they are still in contention for both the European Cup and the Top 14 title. With a backline containing Yannick Jauzion, ClÃƒÂ©ment Poitrenaud and Vincent Clerc, they have the potential to be devastating. However this season the style for which they are famous has been missing all too regularly.
Expect them to try to grind their visitors down with possibly the strongest pack in Europe. Leinster will have to compete up front, and hope that their defence can frustrate a team who have struggled to produce eighty minute performances this season. It is not beyond the Irishmen to pull off another famous away win, but with injury concerns over Sexton, the home side probably go in as slight favourites.
On Sunday, Munster will travel to San SebastiÃƒÂ¡n to face a Biarritz side backed by a huge Basque support. Biarritz are not the side they were four years ago when their defeat in the final looked like a setback on the way to European dominance.
They have been overtaken domestically, and now seem dangerously reliant on three key players. Unfortunately for them, Damien Traille has already been ruled out with a broken arm, and whilst Dmitri Yachvili will play, Imanol HarinordoquyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s broken nose also makes him a doubt.
Munster have injury worries of their own with inspirational captain Paul OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Connell and Irish international Dennis Leamy both missing. Still, whilst both players are important to their side, Munster have the strength in depth to cope without them. Biarritz are still capable of big performances at home, but Munster should probably have too much for them.
Toulouse: Poitrenaud, Clerc, Fritz, Jauzion, Heymans, Skrela, Kelleher; Human, Servat, Lecouls, Millo-Chluski, Albacete, Bouilhou, Dusautoir(c), Sowerby
Leinster: Kearney, Horgan, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Driscoll, DÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Arcy, Nacewa, Berne, Reddan; Healy, Fogarty, Wright, Cullen (c), Hines, McLaughlin, Jennings, Heaslip
Biarritz: Balshaw, Ngwenya, Mignardi, Hunt, Bolakoro, Peyrelongue, Yachvili; Barcella, August, Johnstone, Thion, Carizza, Lauret, Faure, Harinordoquy
Munster: Warwick, Howlett, Earls, De Villiers, Dowling, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Gara, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Leary; Horan, Flannery, Hayes, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Driscoll, OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Callaghan, Quinlan, Wallace, Coughlan
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