Leinster-Toulouse Champions Cup final preview: No margin for error as Leinster put reputation on the line again

The walls of his UCD base are adorned with images of trophy lifting and celebrations, but there has been nothing to add in recent years despite his consistency in campaigning.

They had already appointed Jacques Nienaber when La Rochelle repeated their comeback-from-the-dead trick in a final last year, but recruiting the Springbok supreme almost seems like the perfect response to that heartbreaking loss.

The success of everything they have done since then can be summed up in more than 80 minutes this afternoon at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, where they will face a Toulouse team that has reached the final thanks to a wave of tries.

They are the protagonists of the competition, led by the best player in the world and seeking a sixth title.

And yet Leinster have no psychological baggage over the men in red and black whom they have comfortably beaten in the semi-finals of the last two seasons.

The last hurdle may be the hardest to overcome, but they have relaxed in the preparation and seem to be embracing the challenge of overcoming the finish line.

To achieve this, they will need an 80-minute performance and the bench Leo Cullen has chosen suggests they are keen to avoid the late fades that have occurred in big games.

For Toulouse, there has been a clear focus on discipline.

Last season, Leinster scored 21 points while having men in the container and have conceded fewer penalties this season than today’s opponents.

Ugo Mola revealed that they have been working with senior official Mathieu Raynal to try to stay on the right side of the referees, while also focusing on remaining consistent within games.

They are a better team than a year ago, with youngsters Alexandre Roumat and Paul Costes adding to an already impressive arsenal.

The decision to select Blair Kinghorn instead of Thomas Ramos indicates a clear intention to play around Nienaber’s lightning defense and you can expect to see cross kicks and touches in behind from the midfielders who will be eager to change the blue wave.

Leinster will go after the breakdown and hope to remove Antoine Dupont and slow down the supply, but Toulouse have big bodies that they will pile into Leinster Ball in a plan to limit what Jamison Gibson-Park can do around the breakdown.

With James Ryan on the bench, it’s a big day for Ryan Baird, who will call the lineouts as he did with some success against La Rochelle.

“We’re in a good place,” Ryan said of the set piece. “Many French teams pose different challenges in the lineout. Typically they may not be as aggressive in the air, but they can be quite destructive on the ground with some of their ‘D’ deck strategies.

“That’s part of being a lineout caller, just having an understanding of the opposition and how they are going to defend in the air or on the ground.

“Bairdo did a great job against La Rochelle and I think he will do a great job tomorrow too.”

Cullen doesn’t think much has changed in Toulouse.

“His game is based on forward power. “People think in terms of the skills they have to play the ball, the ability they have to offload,” he said. “They have a very strong identity in terms of keeping the ball alive, but a lot of it is based on forwards who are also big and powerful. We need to make sure we are aware of that future battle.

“We’ve got some good forwards, our starting forwards and we’ve also got some great forwards coming off the bench, so it’s a good combination in terms of how we plan to counter that.”

The game will be won and lost in those trenches, each team’s ability to limit what the No. 9 star can do in the opposing ranks will be a major battleground.

Kinghorn’s shooting will be a concern for Toulouse fans and Leinster need Ross Byrne to have the game of his life.

For Jamie Osborne, there is no baggage and the Naas native’s ability to free his hands could be a major factor, but Costes’ speed may trouble the pair of inside centers in Leinster’s midfield.

Leinster’s attack has been patchy, but you suspect they will have something up their sleeve here. They need to execute when presented with the opportunity to change history this time. There is less and more anguish in the cards.

Verdict: Leinster 24 Toulouse 31