Leinster are the benchmark, a step up from other Irish sides – Toulouse lock Rory Arnold

Rory Arnold of Toulouse and Duane Vermeulen of Ulster during their Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 first leg match clash last month. Photo by Manuel Blondeau/Sportsfile

Cian Tracey

Toulouse’s path to the Heineken Champions Cup semi-final has been nothing if not unusual.

Of the five games they actually played, Toulouse have only won two in the regular 80-minutes – one of which was against a poor Cardiff side.

For the third consecutive round, the defending champions will take on Irish opposition, as they look to complete the hat-trick by dumping out Leinster on Saturday and advancing to the final on May 28.

It will help too that the French outfit experienced the fervour of the Aviva Stadium last weekend, and even if they would much rather be facing Leinster on home soil, Toulouse know what awaits.

“I guess a little bit in that we travelled away and got the results in those two games (Ulster and Connacht), but I think they’re the benchmark, they’re a step up in terms of Irish rugby,” Toulouse’s towering lock Rory Arnold said.

“So we’re going to have to be very, very good and clinical if we want to get the result on Saturday.

“When you have that many internationals playing on both sides, the level of rugby is going to be that bit higher and it’s definitely going to have an international feel to it.

“I’m expecting the weather to be fine so there should be some quality rugby on display on Saturday afternoon and we’re looking forward to it.”

After being taken all the way by Munster, Toulouse needed a penalty shootout to book their place in the last four, and as Arnold watched on helplessly, he didn’t envy being in Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack or Thomas Ramos’ shoes as they lined up the nervy shots at goal.

“When you’re not one of those kickers, you don’t have any input, all you can do is give the boys confidence but it’s a horrible way to lose really after playing 100 minutes of rugby out there and nothing splitting the teams, it comes down to a kick-off between three players,” Arnold maintained.

“You’ve got to feel for the kickers, putting themselves on the line with the pressure involved in that, it’s incredible, it really is.”

At 6ft 10in and weighing in at 120kg, Arnold typifies the power of this ferocious Toulouse pack. Capped 29 times by Australia, the 31-year-old will be a key figure in his side’s attempts to get the edge on Leinster up front.

“Definitely there are some big physical matches over here in the Top 14, but in saying that, you’re going a step up when it comes to European Cup rugby,” Arnold added.

“It’s quicker, it’s physical ... So look, I wouldn’t say we’ve got an advantage there by any means, but we know how much of a test it’s going to be this weekend for us. It’s going to be massive.

“There is nothing between the teams, when you look at how much experience they have and how successful they have been in their competition and in the Heineken as well, they’re a class team. We know it’s going to be a challenge.”