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Brian O'Driscoll exclusive - "Toulouse are running out of lives... it would be one of their greatest wins if they turn Leinster over"
Three-time European Cup winner Brian O'Driscoll looks ahead to Leinster vs Toulouse as BT Sport brings you live coverage of both semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup
Toulouse will need to produce one of the great European away-day performances if they are to deny Leinster a sixth Heineken Cup final appearance in 13 years, according to Brian O’Driscoll.
With a combined total of nine European Cups between them, Saturday’s semi-final sees two of the competition’s most decorated clubs go toe-to-toe for a place in the May 28 Marseille showpiece.
Defending champions Toulouse are gunning for a record-extending sixth crown, while hosts Leinster are hoping to remain on course for a first European Cup since 2018.
Make or break for stuttering Toulouse
It’s safe so say it's been far from plain-sailing for European rugby's most stotried club.
The five-time winners finished seventh in Pool B before beating Ulster by a single point over two legs to reach the last eight.
A 24-24 draw with Munster meant Toulouse required a place-kick competition to reach the semis and O’Driscoll believes their patchy form makes Leinster favourites as the two sides meet for the 13th time in the competition.
“Toulouse are not the same side they were last year,” said O’Driscoll, who lifted the Heineken Cup three times with Leinster. “They’ve limped through the competition so far.
"Leinster have to be favourites because they’re at home, but also because of what happened last weekend.
“Toulouse played over 100 minutes of rugby only seven days ago and they’ll have to build themselves back up again after such an emotionally draining day.”
Heineken Cup semi-final previews
Click here for a look ahead to both last four clashes - including team news, TV channel information and live stream details.
While Toulouse have been unconvincing so far in the defence of their crown, Leinster return to Dublin this weekend off the back of a convincing 23-16 win at Leicester Tigers.
“Toulouse need a fast start to silence the crowd. If you go behind against good opposition, playing catch up is very, very difficult,” said O’Driscoll.
“That first 10 or 15 minutes is always vitally important to the overall outcome of how the game goes.
“You get the sense that Toulouse are running out of lives and if Leinster play to their full potential it will be very difficult.
“It would be one of Toulouse’s greatest victories if they manage to turn Leinster over.”
The biggest stages require the biggest players and there will be no shortage of world-class talent on show when these two European juggenauts collide.
“There’s mouth-watering match ups everywhere with so many Irish and French internationals across the pitch but it’s going to be a proper battle up front,” said O’Driscoll.
“The scrum was such a strong attacking weapon for Toulouse against Munster and it will be a keen focus for Leinster to ensure they get parity in that area on Saturday.
“Elsewhere, the battle at nine is set up beautifully with Jamis Gibson-Park and Antoine Dupont.
“The World Player of the Year against one the most in-form nines in Europe, and possibly the world at the moment.”
“Gibson-Park has taken his game to a new level in recent months and for him to have the opportunity to pit himself against the best player in the world must be super exciting.
“Who gets the upper hand on the day will be decided in part by stuff like decision making and speed of service, but ultimately the speed of the ruck will decide which team has the best platform from which to attack.
“The two sides are very similarly matched on the stats board and both will create plenty of opportunities, it’s just a case of who can convert them.”
Leinster's last Heineken Cup final appearance ended in heartbreak as Saracens cruised to a 20-10 victory to complete a league and European Cup double back in 2019.
Three years on from that chastening defeat at St James' Park, O'Driscoll insists his former employers are better equipped to deal with a team of Toulouse's size and power.
“They will be keen to dispel what they think is a myth, that more physically robust teams can over-power them,” said O’Driscoll.
“This team has a different dynamic to the one that got physically beaten up by Saracens.
“You look at the front row with the emergence of Andrew Porter and Ross Kelleher alongside Tadgh Furlong, plus Caelan Doris, Josh O’Flier and Jack Conan in the back row – these are all players who do not shy away from physical confrontation.”
Evergreen Sexton's five-star bid
A little under two months away from his 37th birthday, Johnny Sexton needs little extra motivation ahead of his 182nd appearance in Leinster blue.
Perpetually written off, a combination of injuries and the emergence of Ireland young guns Joey Carberry and Jack Carty have increased the scrutiny on Sexton as he enters the twilight of his career.
But with another European final on the horizon, O’Driscoll believes the veteran fly-half will be focussed on adding a fifth medal to his collection, underlining his reputation as one of the game’s great 10s.
“Johnny has always been a player that has felt the need to constantly prove himself," he said.
"He’s got such high standards that he cannot accept mediocrity from himself or anyone around him.
“Even at 36, he still has the same hunger and desire he had as a 23-year-old starting out in the first team – maybe more so.
“I think he realises this is a brilliant opportunity to add to his four European titles.
“When you get into the winter of your career you get greedy, you realise your opportunities at winning medals are running out so he will be desperate to take this one.”