Heineken Cup holders Leinster face the toughest possible challenge to their title at the home of three-time champions Toulouse.

Brian O’Driscoll and Co have been imperious in Europe for the past two seasons as they bid to become only the fourth team in the competition’s history to reach back-to-back finals.

After losing on the opening night of this season’s campaign to London Irish, Leinster stormed through the rest of the pool stage before beating Clermont-Auvergne 29-28 in a dramatic quarter-final in Dublin.

But standing in their way is the fearsome task of defeating Toulouse in the south of France.

Toulouse have similarly suffered just one defeat all campaign, away at Cardiff Blues, and topped Pool 5 with relative ease before demolishing rivals Stade Francais 42-16 to earn a place in the semi-finals for the ninth time.

The last time these two teams met in Toulouse in a Heineken Cup knock-out game there were fireworks all afternoon in what has gone down as one of the greatest European games of all-time.

That was 1 April, 2006, but there was nothing foolish about the way Brian O’Driscoll’s side took on the three times Heineken Cup winners in a running game and came out on top 41-35.

It was breathtaking stuff and this weekend’s repeat, albeit one stage later in the 2010 semi-finals, promises to be just as entertaining.

Toulouse proved they are rounding into their best European form as they weathered an early Stade Francais Paris storm in the quarter-finals before breezing into the semi-finals.

Guy Noves’ side have figured in five of the 14 finals to date and are desperately keen to add a fourth title to those they won in 1996, 2003 and 2005.

The goal for Leo Cullen’s Leinster is to keep two hands on the trophy they won in Edinburgh last year and give their departing coach Michael Cheika a shot at becoming the first man to guide a team to back-to-back Heineken Cup victories since Leicester Tigers in 2001 and 2002.

There is so much at stake for both sides and Leinster will have to go into the game without the services of Irish outside half Johnny Sexton. He fractured his jaw in the quarter-final win over ASM Clermont Auvergne and hasn’t recovered sufficiently to be risked in Toulouse.

Shaun Berne will wear the No 10 jersey in his place and the Aussie’s big game temperament is set to be severely tested. But with O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy on his outside, and the fit again Rob Kearney behind him at full back, he will have plenty of experience to call on.

Noves has resisted the urge to pick Jean-Baptiste Elissalde at outside half and has instead gone for the tried and trusted David Skrela to partner the explosive Byron Kelleher at half-back.

Outside them will be Fliran Fritz and Yannick Jauzion.

Their midfield battle with O’Driscoll and D’Arcy will be worth the admission price on its own and could determine which team comes out on top.

Not that the two packs won’t have big roles to play. Toulouse are bound to test the Leinster scrum and try to put their line-out under pressure.

They will also be hoping to make headway with the pick and drive tactics close to the rucks and mauls they used so well against Stade Francais in the last round.

Leinster’s response will be to try to unleash Jamie Heaslip to run at the home defence. If the Ireland and British & Irish Lions can make some dents, then the rest of his side might just take enough advantage to secure a second successive final appearance.

What a game to kick-off the Heineken Cup semi-final weekend – it really is too close to call.


TOULOUSE v LEINSTER Played 7 Toulouse 4 Leinster 3

Biggest Toulouse win 43-7 (2001/02, home)

Biggest Leinster win 40-10 (2001/02, home)



Played 8 Won 5 Lost 3

Biggest semi-final win 30-3 (1995/96 v Swansea, Les Sept Deniers)

Biggest semi-final defeat 37-11 (1996/97 v Leicester, Welford Road


Played 4 Won 1 Lost 3

Biggest semi-final win 25-6 (2008/09 v Munster, Croke Park)
Biggest semi-final defeat 30-6 (2005/06 v Munster at Lansdowne Road)