Blues can have a say in Marseille
These two sides have won five of the last six Champions Cup titles between them so while this is undoubtedly a clash of European titans, Leinster appear far removed from their former glories this season.
Struggling for consistency – with no win in their last four PRO12 outings – and following an unconvincing 18-15 quarter-final victory over Bath, facing Toulon in the south of France is the last thing Leinster need right now.
For Toulon, it has been business as usual; through to a third consecutive European semi-final and currently leading the Top 14, with Southern Hemisphere stars such as Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana returning to form and fitness at exactly the right time.
Jonny Wilkinson may have departed but the double European champions remain unperturbed as they close in on an unprecedented third title in a row.
Of course, these sides first met in last year’s quarter-final, with Toulon becoming the first team since 2010 to beat Leinster in a European knockout game, running out convincing 29-14 winners.
Leinster coach Matt O’Connor has admitted this is the biggest challenge of his career and has some massive decisions to make in terms of both personnel and approach. Only Treviso (4.8) have averaged fewer offloads than Leinster this season (5.3), while Toulon have made the most (17.7 per game); for Leinster to triumph here they will have to have a go and cut loose.
Despite their dominance on both the domestic and European fronts, there are signs of possible chinks in Toulon’s armor.
Leigh Halfpenny may have taken over the metronomic place-kicking duties from the aforementioned Wilkinson, but the Welsh full-back is a doubt for this weekend. Elsewhere, while the Toulon forwards pack serious punch, it is an aging unit and if Leinster can crank up the tempo throughout the second half, father time may eventually catch up with some of Toulon’s grizzled veterans.
The French side’s lineout, too, has creaked this season and is an area where Devin Toner and Co could make hay, while at out-half the mercurial Freddie Michalak remains flaky at best.
Leinster have a full bill of health to choose from and it should be remembered that 11 of their number are coming back into the squad as Six Nations champions. Just like their much vaunted opponents, the Irish province also have proven match-winners all over the field and in the likes of Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy possess ball-carries to rival the best in the game. They will up against exactly that here in the shape of Matthieu Bastareaud, Steffon Armitage et al and will need to be on top of their game to avoid being blown away.
After a stop-start season, the Blues are due a big performance. Whether that will be enough to get past Mourad Boudjellal’s millions remains to be seen. The French juggernaut looks likely to roll on to another final but a fired-up Leinster, available at 5/6 (+11.5), won’t go down without a fight.
The match kicks off at 3.15pm on Sunday, April 19th at Stade Velodrome, Marseille.