Sexton injury leaves Leinster with mountain to climb against Toulouse
Saturday 01 May 2010
Toulouse v Leinster
Leinster know what it is to give the world's most revered club side the run-around in front of their own success-soaked supporters: the Dubliners' victory at Le Stadium in 2006 demands to be counted among the half-dozen finest performances in Heineken Cup history.
Can they manage it a second time in the absence of Jonathan Sexton, their oh-so-subtle and increasingly influential outside-half? It is a mighty tall order.
Sexton's absence from this afternoon's semi-final – he suffered a fractured jaw during the epic victory over Clermont Auvergne in the last eight – means Shaun Berne, nobody's idea of a fool, plays in the pivot position. With the likes of Rob Kearney, Isa Nacewa, Gordon D'Arcy and the peerless Brian O'Driscoll around him, Berne will fancy his chances of breaking down the Toulouse defence. But the Frenchmen have an even better back division at their disposal – Clément Poitrenaud, Vincent Clerc, Cédric Heymans, Florian Fritz and Yannick Jauzion will all be there, with Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Maxime Médard on the bench – and they start as favourites.
Biarritz v Munster
Direct English interest in the elite tournament is centred on Biarritz, of all teams on God's earth. Iain Balshaw starts at full-back, Ayoola Erinle (last seen on Test duty against the All Blacks last November) has been picked in midfield and Magnus Lund has been recalled to the back-row combination, where he will operate alongside Imanol Harinordoquy, no less.
Munster, denied the services of the injured Paul O'Connell, have a decent knockout record in France, having beaten both Toulouse and Stade Français in the past. "I think we understand how to win these games now," said Ronan O'Gara, their long-serving No 10, this week. But the Irishmen will be seriously wary of the lightning-quick wing Takudzwa Ngwenya tomorrow, and be just a little nervous of the Basques' new outside-half, Karmichael Hunt, a rugby league high-achiever from New Zealand who is killing a little time before launching a career in Australian Rules football. There is also the small matter of the scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, who can win games on his own. Even games as big as this one.
Wasps v Cardiff Blues
Danny Cipriani, less than brilliant in the Londoners' heavy Premiership defeat by Bath at Twickenham last weekend, has paid the price for his profligacy by being demoted to the bench for this evening's important Amlin Challenge Cup tie at Adams Park. The celebrity outside-half will probably play a part, but not until either David Walder or Mark van Gisbergen is summoned from the field.
The Blues, far from the worst in Europe over recent campaigns, look strong in most departments, especially as the Lions centre Jamie Roberts is fit to join his fellow hotshots Ben Blair, Leigh Halfpenny and Casey Laulala in a useful back division. But the flanker Andy Powell is still nursing a calf injury and the Welshmen will be in all manner of strife if Darren Allinson, the only scrum-half left standing, fails to go the distance.
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