Toulouse don’t have tools to tame Lions

HAVING watched Toulouse make heavy weather of beating Biarritz and Northampton struggle to dispose of Ulster, Leinster could be forgiven for believing they are on course for a second Heineken Cup in three years.

The intensity of their clash with Leicester was greater than anything witnessed in the other quarter-finals and if that physicality is repeated against Toulouse, it is difficult to see the French aristocrats raise their game to a level capable of getting them into another final.

Leinster coach Schmidt is a worthy successor to Michael Cheika and, if anything, has Leinster playing an even more impressive style of rugby.

We didn’t have to wait until now to appreciate the quality of the Leinster back-row. Kevin McLaughlin has been performing so well in the past few weeks that he is threatening to outshine the human wrecking ball that is Sean O’Brien and the equally inspirational Jamie Heaslip, whose 40 metre burst out of his own 22 was one of the many highlights on Saturday.

Skipper Leo Cullen and the tough Australian-Scot Nathan Hines are key men, given that Schmidt doesn’t appear to have a third second-row of the necessary toughness and know-how should injury befall either. But there is hardly a front-row relishing a clash with props Mike Ross — surely the revelation of the Irish season so far — Cian Healy and the fiery South African hooker Richardt Strauss.

This is a tremendous Leinster pack that can also be added to should Heinke van der Merwe, Shane Jennings and Dominic Ryan be required.

I found it difficult to understand why many shrewd judges voted Toby Flood and Ben Youngs as the outstanding half-backs in the Six Nations. Perhaps they cast their votes before the final game against Ireland when both were made look second rate by Jonathan Sexton and Eoin Reddan.

It would be a surprise if Leinster don’t enjoy a crucial advantage at half-back where Toulouse number ten David Skrela is dangerously slow in getting the ball away, especially with the boot, whereas Sexton is now looking like the complete article.

The game will also provide the latest chapter in the Brian O’Driscoll-Yannick Jauzion rivalry and here again you expect to see Leinster more than hold their own.

Northampton will be expected to cope with Perpignan in the other semi-final. But that opinion could be influenced by the non-stop spin emanating from the English Premiership and an all too easily impressed media. Leicester lead the league over there by three points, yet were well beaten by Leinster and only scraped into the knockout stages as one of the best pool runner-ups.

Meanwhile, Munster’s season is progressing in a much quieter but still satisfactory manner.

Their philosophy going into Saturday’s Amlin Challenge Cup game in Brive was admirably positive but they should never have allowed the opposition, second rate by top French standards, to be within touching distance at the final whistle.

With a home Magners League semi-final more or less guaranteed, Tony McGahan will now be looking to rest the likes of Donncha O’Callaghan, David Wallace and Ronan O’Gara, to name but three, in the coming games away to the Scarlets and the Ospreys.

That in turn will afford him the opportunity to give younger men like Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony and Tommy O’Donnell to show their paces ahead of the big Amlin clash with Harlequins at Thomond Park on April 30.

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