The Champions Cup semi-finals take place this weekend and Simon Mail previews Leinster's game against La Rochelle and Toulouse's tie with Bordeaux...
"Leinster have won five of their previous six Champions Cup semi-finals and their big game experience and success in Europe can help make the difference in France."
La Rochelle v Leinster
Live on BT Sport 2
Leinster on course for more European success
Leinster have a rich history in the Champions Cup and Leo Cullen's side are the favourites to win this season's competition. Despite their lofty status, Leinster face a stern test in the semi-finals with a trip to face La Rochelle. While Leinster have winning experience at this stage in Europe, their opponents bring plenty of form and confidence into the tie.
With four Champions Cup triumphs, Leinster have the joint most European titles to their name and will be determined to reclaim the trophy for the first time since 2018.
Leinster have certainly not had it easy in this season's competition after having to travel to defending champions Exeter in the quarter-finals. But two tries from Jordan Larmour and a James Lowe finish secured a 34-22 victory to end the Chiefs' grip on the Champions Cup.
La Rochelle should not be underestimated
La Rochelle are into their maiden Champions Cup semi-final but the French club should not be dismissed lightly. With former Munster star Ronan O'Gara assisting Jono Gibbes on the touchline, La Rochelle have flourished this season. Currently second in the Top 14, La Rochelle produced an impressive attacking display to defeat Sale 45-21 in their quarter-final. Raymond Rhule scored two of their six tries as they punished their Premiership opponents.
Leinster have won five of their previous six Champions Cup semi-finals and their big game experience and success in Europe can help make the difference in France. Johnny Sexton can be relied on to kick his points and Leinster's ability to win close matches should count in their favour. La Rochelle's dangerous attack can keep this tie close but Leinster are backed to win by up to 12 points and book their place in another final.
Toulouse v Bordeaux
Live on BT Sport 3 and Channel 4
Toulouse close to returning to former glories
Toulouse face Bordeaux in an all-French semi-final showdown this weekend. With four Champions Cup titles and two runner-up finishes, Toulouse are the most successful team in the competition's history. Toulouse have not won the tournament since 2010 though and the French giants are focused on ending their extended wait to add to their trophy haul.
There have been promising signs Toulouse are close to reproducing the dominant team which was previously considered the best in Europe.
Currently leading the way in the Top 14, Toulouse showed their strength to win two tough away matches to reach the Champions Cup last-four.
Outstanding France scrum-half Antoine Dupont scored twice in their 40-33 victory at Munster. Toulouse also defeated rivals Clermont Auvergne 21-12 in the quarter-finals with fly-half Romain Ntamack kicking all their points.
Bordeaux will have to upset the odds if they are to overcome their Gallic rivals but the visitors will be relishing the chance to pull off a shock. Head coach Christophe Urios insists Bordeaux are under no pressure after reaching their first Champions Cup semi-final. Bordeaux edged a dramatic quarter-final against Racing 92, with Matthieu Jalibert's last-minute penalty clinching a 24-21 win.
Toulouse have been building towards a return to the top table in the Champions Cup and look well placed to reach the final. This is their third successive semi-final in the competition and Toulouse have a great opportunity to go all the way. Bordeaux have won all their games in Europe this season and have to be respected after defeating Premiership leaders Bristol. But this looks a significant step up and Toulouse, who have won all this season's European games by no more than 12 points, are backed to edge another tight contest.
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
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