Toulon showdown a 'huge challenge' for Leinster

  • Rugby
  • Thursday, 16 Apr 2015

LONDON (Reuters) - Leinster face a Toulon team who usurped them as the kings of Europe in a mouthwatering Champions Cup semi-final clash on Sunday that the Irish side's head coach Matt O'Connor has billed as a "huge challenge".

Big-spenders Toulon, the 2013 and 2014 European champions in the competition's previous guise as the Heineken Cup, take on three-times winners Leinster at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille while Clermont Auvernge play Saracens 24 hours earlier in the other semi at the Geoffroy Guichard stadium in St Etienne.

It is a familiar feel to the last four with Toulon, Clermont and Sarries having reached the penultimate stage for the third season running.

Jonny Wilkinson, the darling of Toulon's supporters, no longer appears in red and black but the team bankrolled by comic book magnate Mourad Boudjellal have adjusted to life without their talismanic English flyhalf to again stand on the verge of another final.

Toulon beat Leinster 29-14 in the quarter-finals last season and O'Connor said Leinster needed to produce something special to cause an upset.

"The fact is we have got to go there and perform very close to our potential to beat Toulon. The lads understand that," he said.

"It is a huge challenge for us, they have world class blokes in every position. We need to come up with a plan to go there and get a result."

Clermont are appearing in their fourth successive semi-final and have reason to think this could finally be their year to celebrate after demolishing English champions Northampton 37-5 in the last round with a brilliant attacking display.

But they also have good reason to be fearful of Saracens, capitulating to a 46-6 loss to the English club in last season's semi at Twickenham. The two sides have met twice since, with a victory apiece in the pool stage.

"They (Clermont) are a club I admire enormously. They've lost a lot of semi-finals over the years but they keep coming back for more. Their performance against Northampton was as good as anything by a club side this season," said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall, whose club are seeking to become the first English club to win the cup since Wasps in 2007.

England centre Brad Barritt made his comeback from injury for Saracens in the win over Leicester at the weekend and international team mate Owen Farrell is expected to be available after three months on the sidelines. The flyhalf suffered a knee ligament injury against Clermont in the pool stage.

(Editing by Mitch Phillips)

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