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Toulouse different animal if Warrior returns

THE GAMES began long before the game itself. As far back as a month ago, the words in the wind had it that France and Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir was the latest of their brethren to fall foul of injury.

Sure enough, he was ruled out of action for a solid month with a leg problem and would be a rank outsider to make the Heineken Cup semi-final if Toulouse could overcome the brutal force of Biarritz Olympique in the Basque Country.

At the same time, Leinster’s Shane Jennings was smack bang in the middle of his recuperation from a cartilage problem that proved more enduring than he would have liked.

The current French Championship leaders – they became the first club to qualify for their domestic semi-final by whitewashing Bourgoin 33-0 on Sunday – and Heineken Cup specialists are nothing if not canny in the ways of this world.

As recently as last Monday week, Dusautoir was spoken of as a spiritual force certain to lend his knowledge but not his body to their preparations for the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday. Lo and behold, Dusautoir appeared, as if out of thin air, to play out the entirety of the Bourgoin match, even donating one of the five tries.

WARRIOR

“I'm going to try to recuperate well but I'm not putting myself under any particular pressure regarding the European semi-final,” he said.

“The aim was to return but I'm going to give myself a few matches to reach my peak. I felt good even if obviously I was a bit wary because it was the first time in a month that I'd had contact.”

Toulouse with Dusautoir is a different animal to that without him. He is a great warrior, unafraid of the unknown, as he contemplates the first visit of Toulouse to the Aviva. Eleven days ago,

Leinster’s defensive organiser supreme, Jennings, returned to Leinster for the first time in eight weeks against Ulster in the Magners League. Jennings started there and against Aironi in Italy last Saturday afternoon as part of his return to top fitness.

He knows all about the mind games and the hype that punctuate the build-up to the big games.

They don’t come any bigger than Toulouse or any better than their captain Dusautoir, a worthy adversary: “Throughout the season, if you look at their team, especially their back row, they can put any combination together. “I would have thought, when he was injured, even from the outset, they would gear him (Dusautoir) towards this game as a comeback target,” issued Jennings.

“He is obviously on course to do that given that he played last weekend. “He is a quality player. He is their captain. They will be looking to him for leadership.

“He is a very, very good player and, more than that, he will be very influential in their preparation as well as actually playing in the game. I have played against him for a few years. He is very physical in defence, a good lineout forward and he can link very well.

“Basically, he is the complete player. He is the French captain for a number of reasons. He is going to be big for them. He is also going to be tough for us to play against.”

FORTUNATE

Jennings is aware of how Leinster will need all hands on deck and working to a standstill to prevent Toulouse from marching on to their seventh Heineken Cup final.

“We are in a very fortunate position, not just in the back row, but all over at the moment. Rob Kearney is still out injured. He is the one and only notable exclusion,” said Jennings.

“Other than that, we are all fighting fit and raring to go. There is good competition. That is what we want. There are 22-23 lads ready to go on the day.”

The competition is at its most fierce in the back row where Jennings will have to fend off the considerable claims of Kevin McLaughlin, Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan if he is to join Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip.

Coach Joe Schmidt must decide whether to opt for the lineout excellence and hard edge of McLaughlin, the athletic, cavalier attitude of teenage powerhouses Ruddock and Ryan or the experience and organisational intelligence of Jennings. He will wait until Friday lunchtime to make his decision.


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