The date has finally come close enough to taste. Sunday will see a lot of giddy children searching for eggs. Leinster fans are giddy for a different reason.
The search for a fifth title is on, and only one of tomorrow’s teams can go through for a chance at a fifth title.
Leo Cullen has named an interesting team. James Lowe is going to feature, and with Scot Fardy taking up a spot on the bench, there is no room for Jamison Gibson-Park in the match day squad.
It’s great to have James Ryan and Devin Toner back together once more. We have missed them of late. It’s also our strongest front row combination, Healy, Cronin and Furlong.
The injury list for the back row is growing longer, but Leinster’s resources are deep in that area. Sean O’Brien looked strong during last week’s run out and is joined by Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock. They face a tough challenge and this battle may decide the match.
Another returning player is Robbie Hanshaw, reuniting in centre partnership with Garry Ringrose. Sexton has shaken off his latest niggles to captain the side.
The back three, Kearney, Larmour and Lowe, are all about pace and excitement. Rob took two tries really well last week and looks in great shape.
|Cian Healy||1||Clement Castets|
|Sean Cronin||2||Peato Mauvaka|
|Tadhg Furlong||3||Charlie Faumuina|
|Devin Toner||4||Richie Arnold|
|James Ryan||5||Richie Gray|
|Rhys Ruddock||6||Rynhard Elstadt|
|Sean O’Brien||7||Joe Tekori|
|Jack Conan||8||Jerome Kaino|
|Luke McGrath||9||Sébastien Bézy|
|Johnny Sexton||10||Antoine Dupont|
|James Lowe||11||Cheslin Kolbe|
|Robbie Henshaw||12||Pita Ahki|
|Garry Ringrose||13||Sofiane Guitoune|
|Jordan Larmour||14||Yoann Huget|
|Rob Kearney||15||Thomas Ramos|
|James Tracy||16||Guillaume Marchand|
|Ed Byrne||17||Cyril Baille|
|Michael Bent||18||Maks Van Dyk|
|Scott Fardy||19||Selevasio Tolofua|
|Max Deegan||20||Piula Faasalele|
|Hugh O’Sullivan||21||François Cros|
|Ross Byrne||22||Romain Ntamack|
|Rory O’Loughlin||23||Maxime Médard|
Hugh O’Sullivan gets the bench spot for a scrum half specialist. This is a big call on Leo’s part, but the young player seems to tick all the right boxes in his growing number of appearances this year.
It’s difficult to know what to make of Toulouse. When they leave quality players like Maxime Médard and Romain Ntamack on the bench, it starts to worry me. How good are these young players that are starting?
We know all about Kolbe and his pace; it is going to be difficult to keep Toulouse out. With luck, the problems of the past few games, which saw a leaky defence, has been sorted out. The returning first team players will help stem the gaps, but given the pace at which Toulouse are likely going to want to play at, the bench is going to be important.
That’s my main worry, that their bench looks a lot more experienced than ours. They are likely going to finish the strongest, so if we are behind, then it will be a problem.
If we get pulled into a loose game, fuelled by poor kicking, we will struggle to get the ball back. They have the players to go around us, a big weakness for our narrow defence. We need to keep the ball and build possession and territory. Kick points when they are on offer and try to force them to play a defensive game for as long as possible. It nearly worked when we played them away from home in October, but we made too many mistakes.
Our set piece will be the source of our tries, I suspect. We score a lot directly from line outs and a fair number from scrums. James Lowe will be a key man; Leo will have a move or two that he’s kept up his sleeve for this game.