Clement Poitrenaud takes a sharp intake of breath at the mention of Leinster and puffs out his cheeks in admiration. 'Their backs are sometimes crazy,' he says. 'They do such incredible things.'
The outstanding full back of the Six Nations speaks from personal experience, of the day the reigning Heineken champions raised their particular brand of craziness to unscaled heights the last time they went to Toulouse in the knock-out stage of the tournament. Poitrenaud needs no reminding of how an Irish blitz in the quarter final destroyed his
club's defence of a trophy which has eluded them ever since.
Four years on, Poitrenaud can only hope for a little less craziness from Leinster when they return to the scene of their triumph, Le Stadium for the first of the weekend's semi-finals on Saturday afternoon.
A clutch of fellow Grand Slammers will be lining up alongside him eager to do their bit to stop the Irish hijacking the first Parisian final during the nine years since Leicester under Martin Johnson overwhelmed Stade Francais despite ten goals from Diego Dominguez.
When it comes to winning a prize which glitters more with the passing of each season, Toulouse have not been quite the same since Leinster put them to the sword in 2006. They failed to make the last eight the following season, lost to Munster in the 2008 final at the Millennium Stadium and to Cardiff at the same venue in the quarter-finals last year.
Their domestic inconsistency in the Top 14, underlined by a strange failure to win successive matches more than once since the turn of the year is in sharp contrast to their Heineken form. Anyone questioning the old champions' hunger to regain their lost European throne had only to look at their semi-final destruction of Stade Francais for the most
emphatic of answers.
What the Heineken meant to Toulouse galvanised them into a performance great enough to reinforce the conviction that this season's tournament has outstripped the Six Nations as a spectacle. The bewitching nature of their game, especially in the second half, had a hypnotic effect on Max Guazzini's pink creation from the capital.
'Our fans have a love affair with this competition,' says Poitrenaud, a player driven to regain the trophy to some extent by his
costly error of judgement in the 2004 final against Wasps at Twickenham.
The error, waiting for Rob Howley's corner-flag punt to bounce in-goal instead of hoofing it into touch, allowed the Welsh Wasp to steal the try which left Toulouse with nothing to show for their superiority that day.
'I was young and I made a mistake,' Poitrenaud says. 'The players and staff were all very helpful to me at that time. I use it as a big motivation to make sure we win the trophy again.'
The treacherous business of trying to calculate the prospects of an all-Irish final at the Stade de France on May 22 would have to be based on the premise that Leinster's obstacle is more formidable than the one awaiting Munster in San Sebastian on Sunday. League tables formed over eight months tend not to lise and Le Championnat's final reckoning
supports the theory that Biarritz fall some way behind Toulouse.
While their perennial head coach, Guy Noves, is in position to strike for another domestic title through an extended six-club playoff, Les Bairrots lost as many matches as they won in finishing seventh which, for them, is nowhere. Munster's wariness about revisiting the Estadio Anoeta will have more to do with what happened on their previous visit ( a
losing quarter-final five years ago) rather than the ropey old nature of their Magners League defeat by the Ospreys at Thomond Park last weekend.
Munster in the Heineken are a very different proposition as Biarritz discovered at the denouement of the 2006 final in Cardiff when Peter Stringer made his famous blindside dash for the decisive score. As the Red Army heads south for a weekend in the Basque country, they will be wary of talk about Biarritz being the outsiders of the semi-final cast.
They have proven matchwinners of international class in Imanol Harinordoquy, for my money the supreme player in the Six Nations, scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili and Takudzwa Ngwenya, their American Eagle on the wing who showed Shane Williams in the quarter-final that his ability to give distinguished opponents the runaround is not restricted to Bryan
Munster will be only too happy to take the pragmatic route to a fifth final, especially after losing all four of their most recent
knock-out ties in France, to Biarritz (2005), Toulouse (2003), Stade Francais (2002 and 2001). Leinster have come a long way since since losing every one of their first seven matches in France, a run which ended at Bourgoin the season before they left Poitrenaud with an indelible impression of their 'crazy backs.'
Toulouse-Leinster has all the makings of a classic, the acidtest of the Dubliners' ability to win the crown in successive seasons, a feat achieved only by Leicester. Having picked Leinster to retain their title before the tournament began, I have no reason to doubt them now.
Munster will expect to keep their part of the bargain and ensure Paris on May 22 goes a deeper shade of green than Boston on St. Patrick's Day.
For the record, the 2006 quarter-final:
Toulouse 35 pts, Leinster 41.
Leinster: G Dempsey; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, capt., G D'Arcy, D
Hickei; F Contepomi, G Easterby; R Corrigan, B Blaney, W Green; B Williams,
M O'Kelly; C Jowitt, J Heaslip, K Gleeson.
Tries- Jowitt, Hickie, O'Driscoll, Horgan.
Conversions-Contepomi 3. Penalties-Contepomi 5.
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, Y Jauzion, F Fritz, C Heymans; F
Michalak, J-B Elissalde; J-B Poux, Y Bru, capt., O Hasan; F Pelous, T
Brennan; J Bouilhou, I Maka, Y Nyanga.
Tries-Nyanga, Jauzion. Conversions-Elissalde 2.
Penalties-Elissalde 6. Drop goal-Michalak.
The directors of ERC voted unanimously at a Board meeting to postpone all decisions including the release of further instalments of ERC's distributable central revenues to the six shareholder countries until 19 February next when the Board will meet again to reconsider the issue.