Leicester's Levellers plan to overthrow aristocrats

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Toulouse, noble and pleasure-seeking in equal measure, hold the kind of high-born attitudes that would have had them kneeling under the guillotine during the French Revolution. Leicester, bloody-minded from tip to toe, are full of folk who would happily have pulled the lever. Tomorrow's great clash of rugby cultures before a capacity crowd of 32,000 at the Walkers Stadium could, and should, propel the Heineken Cup another few steps up the sporting hillside and give the tournament a contest worthy of its 10th anniversary. It is as near to unmissable as union gets.

Toulouse, noble and pleasure-seeking in equal measure, hold the kind of high-born attitudes that would have had them kneeling under the guillotine during the French Revolution. Leicester, bloody-minded from tip to toe, are full of folk who would happily have pulled the lever. Tomorrow's great clash of rugby cultures before a capacity crowd of 32,000 at the Walkers Stadium could, and should, propel the Heineken Cup another few steps up the sporting hillside and give the tournament a contest worthy of its 10th anniversary. It is as near to unmissable as union gets.

John Wells, the Leicester coach, was quite correct when he supported the competition's claim to superiority over the Six Nations Championship, pointing out that in any given season, there might be as many as a dozen potential winners. Certainly, all four of this weekend's semi-finalists - Stade Français and Biarritz meet at the Parc des Princes this afternoon - would be worthy victors, lavishly equipped as they are with world-class players and underpinned by a sense of identity every bit as deeply rooted as that of an Arsenal or a Manchester United. Stade were the last to capture the collective imagination of their public, but no one who saw the Parisians turn out in their thousands for the quarter-final victory over Newcastle seriously doubts that the process is complete.

This weekend shows the 15-man game in all its finery, with two matches capable of rivalling the semi-final epics of previous tournament - Brive versus Toulouse in 1997, Ulster against Stade in 1999, the Leicester-Llanelli game in 2002 and, most recently, the classic set-to between Munster and Wasps at Lansdowne Road last spring. That latter occasion was commonly considered to have been the best club match in living memory. If we get anything 60 per cent as good this time, we will be blessed.

Tomorrow's game in Leicester is marginally the more likely to deliver, owing to the more obvious contrast in the competing rugby philosophies. On their day, the Tigers pack, nursed by the increasingly authoritative boot of Andy Goode, can reduce anyone to mincemeat; on their day, the Toulouse backs are capable of a brand of union entirely of their own creation. With the best will in the world, the Midlanders cannot begin to match their visitors in the cavalry department. Toulouse will field Clément Poitrenaud at full-back, Vincent Clerc and Cédric Heymans on the wings, Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz at centre, Frédéric Michalak at stand-off and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde at scrum-half. Frightening? Yes, and then some.

Yet the real meat of this game will be found among the meat-heads. If the Toulouse forwards summon the furies sufficiently to keep Julian White, Martin Johnson, Lewis Moody and Neil Back at bay, they will win the game. But that is a mighty big "if", especially without the injured Fabien Pelous at the heart of their pack. Unlike Biarritz, with their stunning back row, or Stade, with their footballing front-rowers and their impregnable line-out, the men from the Midi-Pyrenees are not always convincing up front.

If Pelous leaves an unpluggable hole in the Toulouse scrum, Leicester will miss Martin Corry almost as sorely. Corry, no stranger to the dark arts, was hoist on his own petard by Saracens, who provoked him into a violent indiscretion during a turbulent Premiership match at Vicarage Road six days ago. Banned for three weeks, the England No 8 can only watch from the stand and hope that his replacement, Henry Tuilagi, has some old-fashioned Midlands grit in his sporting DNA, as well as all that Samoan flamboyance.

Should Leicester make it through this most extreme of examinations, next month's final at Murrayfield will be no picnic either. Biarritz put 40 points on Stade recently, but that was down in the Basque country. The Parisians are much less accommodating in their own neck of the woods, and even though injuries have left their selection up in the air, they go into today's game secure in the knowledge that the last time Biarritz pitched up the capital, they left with nothing.

However, the Basques have won nine of their last 10 games in the French Championship, while Stade have lost three from five. Judging by the look of the visiting back-row - Imanol Harinordoquy, Thomas Lièvremont and the astonishing Serge Betsen - the team from the Spanish border appear to have what it takes.

Team News

Tomorrow 3.30 Leicester V Toulouse

Henry Tuilagi replacesMartin Corry at No 8 for Leicester and Lewis Moody is on the blind-side flank. Austin Healey and Leon Lloyd return on the wings, with Ollie Smith at outside centre.

Today 3.00 Std Francais V Biarritz

David Skréla joins Juan Hernandez, Gonzalo Quesada and Brian Liebenberg in Stade's treatment room as they face a powerful Biarritz side.

Tomorrow 1.00 Sale V Connacht

Ben Coutts starts at prop for Sale, while Chris Jones is in the back row ahead of John Carter. Connacht are without their back-row forward Matt Lacey, who has a shoulder injury.

Tomorrow 3.00 London Irish V Bath

Nils Mordt takes Mike Catt's place in the centre for Irish. Bath have Martyn Wood at No 9 ahead of Nick Walshe in the only change to last week's side.

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