If Glasgow were arguably the better side last weekend in being defeated by Leinster then Perpignan falling to Stade Francais in Stade Aimé Giral were definitely so. The difference between Glasgow and Leinster was marginal, both full of invention and light on error and both ruthless at the breakdown.
The Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final had a different story to tell. The obvious difference between Perpignan and Stade was the score but the provision came down to Stade's first-half scrum, the unreal siege gun that is fullback Jérome Porical's right foot and Perpignan's strange second-half tactics. Leinster have escaped one major battle in Perpignan.
Clermont, Leinster’s true French equivalent, topped the Top 14, with Stade lying fourth from bottom and 439 points between the sides.
Tonight’s match has dangers but is full of opportunity for both Leinster and Connacht, as a Leinster win will secure a Heineken Cup spot for the westerners. Glasgow were a far stiffer challenge than Stade will be tonight but Porical can rob them as he did in the semi-final game.
Firstly he cut through extremely meek Perpignan defence to find David Lyons for an outrageously soft try and then he stood up 'Cool Hand Luke' style to land three points from 56 metres before winning it with another three points from 50 metres.
An early insight into Stade's desire against Perpignan came inside the first minute when gaining a cheap turnover inside their 22 the subsequent Stade kick chase was appalling. Yes, they chased it but in an arrow formation with young outhalf Jules Plisson leading the charge as team-mates lagged miles behind.
Stade will counter-attack but the tackle area is nothing like Clermont or Glasgow and will reap Leinster rewards by committing numbers on the counter ruck with low body height through the gate where I'm surprised Shane Jennings isn't starting. Kicks over the top forcing Stade's back three into green space tend to be poorly supported by team-mates where I lost count of forwards lackadaisically supporting vulnerable backs. This will expose Stade's back three to a hungry hunting Leinster. Stade's multiphase defence becomes very narrow so Leinster must build phases in the knowledge Stade will narrow which will afford a wide Leinster strike.
Both Perpignan tries came in the same corner. Having narrowed Stade's defence, Perpignan put width on the ball sometimes with a false wall in front of James Hook. As the pass was cut back Hook kept his depth to get the ball wide. I know Leinster have a 'new' backline but Stade are also without players (Felipe Contepomi and Pascal Pape) so the big question remains; can Leinster's backline pass the ball outside the French?
Their backrow is intriguing, with Sergio Parisse and Jamie Heaslip set to occupy each other. There is warranted worldwide regard for Parisse. When he carries the ball there is an aura around him, equally with his own players waiting patiently for his ridiculous offloads. But, on the other hand, they are extremely slow to support him on the deck. This is yet another opportunity to steal ball for Leinster.
Let the tackle occur and then pounce. I do fancy the Leinster backrow to outrun the French as it’s been some time since Wallaby David Lyons lived at real pace.
Perpignan elected for short four and five man lineouts with off-the-top and mauling variations, which Stade elected to sack.
When Perpignan needed directness their lineout maul was very useful.
The Stade scrum, however, has a major impact. The first one against Perpignan was Stade's and loosehead Aled De Malmanche murdered Perpignan on the left-hand side, gaining a penalty.
The second scrum was Perpignan’s but De Malmanche once again lifted and destabilised Perpignan, with Kisi Pulu popping into the air; watch out Mike Ross! The fourth, fifth and sixth scrums followed suit with Stade gaining two more penalties.
Leinster's hunger and fitness is unlikely to dampen and crucially as Joe Schmidt passes on to pastures new the key opportunity for Leinster tonight is routed in his stated ambition; because a quality passing team can score tries against Stade.
PS: It's great to see Munster bound Andrew Conway starting tonight. He's a real beauty chasing kicks, making hits, bouncing back onto his feet and he has the feet to root defenders to the spot.