Leinster vs Toulouse: Unchanged Leinster XV as injured Tommy O’Brien drops out of 23

Young wing ruled out for the rest of the season after picking up injury during training

An ACL injury has ruled Tommy O’Brien out of the rest of the season but Johnny Sexton returns despite departing with a head injury  during the Leicester win. Photograph:  Evan Treacy/Inpho

An ACL injury has ruled Tommy O’Brien out of the rest of the season but Johnny Sexton returns despite departing with a head injury during the Leicester win. Photograph: Evan Treacy/Inpho

 

Heineken Champions Cup semi-final: Leinster vs Toulouse, Saturday 3pm, Aviva Stadium (live on BT Sport)

Leo Cullen has named an unchanged starting XV, with one enforced alteration on the bench, from last week’s 23-14 quarter-final win away to Leicester. Tommy O’Brien, having made his European debut in that game, suffered an ACL injury in training this week, so ruling him out of the remainder of the campaign and beyond according to a Leinster statement. Ciarán Frawley is restored to the match-day squad.

For their part, Toulouse have made three changes to their starting XV. Argentinian winger Juan Cruz Mallía returns from suspension in place of their latest casualty, Demetri Delibes, while Cyril Baille is restored to the front-row as he rotates with Rodrigue Neti, as does Anthony Jelonch, with Thibaud Flament moving to the bench.

Ugo Mola again opts for a 6-2 split on the bench, where Martin Page Relo and fit again Australian Zack Holmes replace the injured pair of Baptiste Germain and Maxime Medard. Their match-day squad contains nine players who were part of France’s win over Ireland in the Six Nations and went on to win the Grand Slam.

“They have the ability just to turn it on at this stage of the season. Like, there’s two different styles, they have the pressure game where they tighten things up and keep the game very, very tight, then they’ve the ability to open up at moments in the game as well with some of the players that they have.

“It’s been pretty well documented, you’ve seen some of their individuals, the big seasons they’ve had, not just with Toulouse but with France.

“And they’ve a huge amount of experience in the team now that has produced on the big days, during the course of the Six Nations and you saw it during the November internationals as well.

“It’s a great challenge for our guys. They are the five-time champions, they’re the current champions, they’re the Top 14 champions and they have a Grand Slam winning group of players as well.

“But that’s what our guys wanted, they want to be up against this type of team at at this stage of the tournament. That’s what I mean, we’re waiting now and everyone just wants to get into the game at this point.

“From our point of view, there were some good parts in our (quarter-final) performance, there’s lot of things we can get better at and that’s what we’ve tried to focus on as a group this week. We just want to get going now.”

Toulouse had to endure a 100-minute quarter-final before their penalty shoot-out win over Munster and have more miles on the clock this season, although Cullen maintained his side cannot afford to entertain such thoughts.

“I don’t know, is the honest answer. Does it take a bit of a toll? They’re used to the grind of Top 14 anyway, week on week, so it’s the size of the game. We’ll wait and see, it’s not something we will rely on ourselves; their fatigue.

“For us, we just want to impose our game regardless of what the opposition has done the week before. We tried to get that balance between having some intensity this week, recovering from coming back late on Saturday night, and just managing the group well this week.

“We only have one change to the 23, and their 23 is well settled. I know they picked up a couple of knocks in the backs last week.

“We’ve got to be able to impose our game, when we have the ball and when we don’t have the ball. When you’re at the Aviva, there’s a certain familiarity, but we can’t rely on it. We have the crowd’s support, it feeds into the energy of the team.

“For us to deliver that type of performance which brings a lot of energy and intent to our play, that’s the thing we’ve tried to focus on. Toulouse are hugely experienced, and they’ll be trying to find ways to disrupt our flow.

“We’ve discussed certain things that they may do, but again we have to be able to be alert to the things that they’re trying to impose upon us. It’s a fascinating challenge, they’re a great team. We watched on with great interest last year, we got knocked out ion the semi-final against La Rochelle, and watched Toulouse go on and beat La Rochelle.

“It’s a fascinating challenge, we have huge respect for them as a team. We’re just excited to get going at this point, dying for kick-off. Let’s get it on now, it’s what we’re excited about, and just rip into the challenge of playing the top team of Europe over the last 25 years of the competition. It doesn’t get much better really, we’re excited to get going.”

Leinster have sold over 37,000 tickets for their Heineken Champions Cup semi-final against Toulouse on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium and with tickets on sale outside the ground they are confident that the attendance will exceed 40,000 despite the quarter-finals only being completed last weekend.

The sense of expectation as this meeting between Leinster, four-time winners, and Toulouse, the five-time winners and reigning champions, was palpable when Leo Cullen spoke to the media after their captain’s run inside the stadium. The turnaround has been quick, yet in some respects not quick enough.

“It’s a very quick turnaround from a quarter-final to a semi-final but there were parts of the week that are going quite slowly as well, it’s almost like we just want to get out there and play the game.

“So huge credit to Clare and everyone in the ticket office, they’ve managed to get close to 40,000 tickets sold already and hopefully push that on over the next 24 hours and we’ll get that sea of blue here, which is what everyone has really craved that’s involved with the team.

“Because we’ve been in this situation the last couple of seasons, playing these big play-off games in Europe and haven’t had any supporters at all, so to be at this stage of the competition, a semi-final here at the Aviva, we’d like to be able to press fast forward and get into the action because it’s just a very, very exciting time for us.”

LEINSTER RUGBY: Hugo Keenan; Jimmy O’Brien, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, James Lowe; Johnny Sexton (capt), Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Joe McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Luke McGrath, Ross Byrne, Ciaran Frawley,

STADE TOULOUSAIN: Thomas Ramos; Juan Cruz Mallía, Pierre Fouyssac, Pita Ahki, Matthis Lebel; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand (capt), Dorian Aldegheri, Rory Arnold, Emmanuel Meafou, Rynhardt Elstadt, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Rodrigue Neti, David Ainu’u, Joe Tekori, Selevasio Tolofua, Thibaud Flament, Martin Page Relo, Zack Holmes.

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)

AR1: Christophe Ridley (England)

AR2: Anthony Woodthorpe (England)

TMO: Stuart Terheege (England)

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