Despite absentees, Toulouse still tasty and ready for Irish test

TOULOUSE coach Guy Noves admits his patched-up team have a mountain to climb in today’s Heineken Cup semi-final against London Irish (3pm).

The south-westerners will start as marginal favourites at Twickenham owing to their European pedigree – they are three-time winners of thetrophy – and the depth of talent in their squad. But they have a lengthy absentee list to contend with – star winger Vincent Clerc (knee) joined fellow France backs Florian Fritz and Clement Poitrenaud in the treatment room last weekend while Les Bleus flanker Thierry Dusautoir, whose father died earlier this week, will only be on the bench.

Noves is also worried about the strength of a London Irish team who have exceeded all expectations by making it this far for the first time.

He said: “They have a very dynamic side that possesses quick and strong players. They have a very reliable set-piece, with a very good line-out and – contrary to what people say – a very good scrum. I fear their capacity to raise their game, to be roused by playing at Twickenham and our inability to beat them. But I hope they fear Toulouse as well.”

He added: “It isn’t the time to lament our current position. We have to work with the fit players we have and rise to the challenge with those we will have in London. That will make it all the sweeter if we win. If not, we will have to do better next year.”

Even with the disruption to their famous free-flowing back division, Toulouse’s starting XV still looks daunting. They still have an electric back three of Cedric Heymans, Yves Donguy and Maxime Medard, while the imperious Yannick Jauzion and the dynamic Maleli Kunavore line up at centre.

Former France captain Fabien Pelous takes the captain’s armband and is partnered at lock by Argentina’s Patricio Albacete, who was recently named the Top 14 player of the month for March. Fly-half Valentin Courrent and Dusautoir have been named on the bench but remain doubts – the latter was knocked out during the defeat to Clermont and is not ready to play the full 80 minutes.

“We are being hit by some bad blows at Toulouse at the moment,” said Noves. “The injury to Vincent Clerc; Thierry Dusautoir telling me at the start of the week about the death of his father. It meant the defeat in the league, to one of the best teams in France, pales into insignificance.

“That will not put into jeopardy our path to the semi-finals of the Top 14, and I remain convinced we have enough to win this match. We are staying positive.”

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