Blue tide sweeps through Toulouse as fans ride huge wave of optimism
Herald's Leinster ambassador Aoife Anderson sees fans making the most of a fantastic occasion
A sea of blue-clad rugby fans dominated downtown Toulouse this afternoon as Leinster supporters geared up for the highly anticipated battle on the banks of the Garonne River.
An estimated 3,000 trophy-thirsty fans have jetted into the city in recent days, the last of which touched down early this morning, to help cheer on the team as they take on the burly French squad in the Heineken Cup semi-final.
Just hours before the kick-off, supporters waving flags and scarves took over the picturesque Place du Capitole at 1pm.
Hundreds turned out to march en masse to the Stadium Municipal de Toulouse in time for the game at 4.45pm (local time) since there is no public transport operating during the Labour Day bank holiday.
Speaking to the Herald, a confident Terry Rogers, from Dun Laoghaire, said the team was "more than capable" of securing a spot in the final.
"It will be a tough old match but we were here fours years ago when we beat them and we didn't have a chance then either, apparently, so I think we have a chance now.
"Leinster are champions, they should have been beaten by Clermont and we're due a good game, so I think this is going to be it. I don't think their luck has run out.
"Johnny Sexton's absence from the squad is still a big concern, but fans are confident of his replacement. Shaun Berne is not a bad lieutenant, maybe his kicking isn't quite as good and he's not as robust as Johnny, but I think the team have a great chance," said Terry.
Former Leinster and Toulouse player Trevor Brennan helped get visitors in the mood by arriving to collect fans off his chartered flight kitted out in full rugby clobber. "I just did it for the laugh and to get people in the mood," he said.
David Pfeiffer from Lucan said he is 100pc certain the team can pull a victory out of the bag.
"They did it a few years ago and there are a lot of fans here and I think that today more than ever we need to show the lads that we are the 16th member of the squad. I am confident we can help them get through to Paris on May 22. Thankfully temperatures have dropped now so that should help them.
"There is no atmosphere here for the Toulouse side. We have our Leinster flag outside our hotel bedroom window, everyone is wearing their blue jerseys but I haven't seen one Toulouse flag and no bunting around so we have the edge in terms of support anyway."
Patricia O'Donoghue from Rathmines said: "I think it's going to be a tough game but if we can survive the first 20 minutes we might just sneak through.
"They are going to throw everything at us and I think if our defence can hold them off for the first 20 minutes, we can score a victory.
"Johnny Sexton is obviously a big loss but I think all the boys are going to step up to the plate. Shaun Berne seems fairly confident.
"The atmosphere here is just cracking. We always planned to walk to the game from town even before we knew it was a public holiday here, so the lack of transport isn't bothering us.
"There is a real sense of camaraderie among Leinster fans and loads of people have been giving people lifts to make sure that everyone gets here in time from the various airports," she added. However, some fans admitted they are extremely worried about the team's chances of success.
Richard Mahony from Sandymount said: "It doesn't make me very happy to admit it but our chances of winning are only about 30pc."
Sean Fitzpatrick, from Dundrum, believes the team will need to be "unbelievably physical" to win, but added: "The odds are against us. I think in the last few years, Leinster's support has grown, so there is a great community atmosphere and that will help the team."
His pal Alan Fagan said: "It's going to be very tough but if we win, Toulouse won't know what hit it."