Battle with 'Martian' Dupont excites Gibson-Park

Jamison Gibson-Park
Jamison Gibson-Park signed for Leinster in 2016 after growing up in New Zealand [Getty Images]

Investec Champions Cup final: Leinster v Toulouse

Venue: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London Date: Saturday, 25 May Time: 14:45 BST

Coverage: Live online radio commentary; live text updates on BBC Sport website and app.

Leinster's Jamison Gibson-Park says he is relishing the chance to go head-to-head with rival scrum-half Antoine Dupont in Saturday's eagerly anticipated Champions Cup final at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Dupont, 27, is considered the best player in the world and key to the chances of a star-studded Toulouse side winning an unprecedented sixth European Cup.

However, Gibson-Park has been one of the standout players in the competition and, with four tries, has been instrumental in Leinster's run to a third successive final.

The 32-year-old was denied the opportunity of facing Dupont during Ireland's triumphant Six Nations campaign after the Toulouse captain opted to join France's sevens team preparing for the Paris Olympics.

"These are the moments you dream of in my position," Gibson-Park said.

"He's the number one player, the best player in the world these last few seasons.

"It's a huge challenge for players in our position. But it’s the team who are facing him."

In this year's Champions Cup, Dupont is top for carries (110) and offloads (20); second for both metres (534) and line breaks (13), and joint-third place for turnovers (9).

Even his team-mates cannot believe how good Dupont is.

"The boys joke around and call him 'the Martian' as he is not from earth, he is an alien," said Toulouse lock Emmanuel Meafou.

"You can’t do anything but shake your head and wish you could do that too. The stuff he does in games is only half of what he is capable of."

'Confident' Leinster v 'super-confident' Toulouse

The Irish province are aiming to equal Toulouse as five-time European champions and secure their first title since 2018 after back-to-back final defeats by La Rochelle.

"We’ve done our best in the last two finals, but this season we’ve put everything into trying to move forward with the arrival of some new coaches, who have changed a lot of things," Gibson-Park added.

"We hope that our defensive system will make the difference in the final by disrupting a Toulouse team who like to run with the ball a lot."

Leinster can also take heart from beating 2021 champions Toulouse in the semi-finals in 2022 and 2023.

"I suppose we're confident because we've had some good results against Toulouse the last few seasons," the Ireland scrum-half added.

"But they have changed a lot since our last clash. They are the best team in the competition and have beaten everyone fairly comfortably this season.

“They’re on fire at the moment and so I think they’ll arrive in London super-confident."

Connors picked ahead of Van der Flier

Leinster have picked flanker Will Connors ahead of Ireland open-side Josh van der Flier.

Connors, 28, started instead of 2022 World Rugby player of the year Van der Flier in both victories over La Rochelle in this year's tournament and impressed with his chop-tackling ability.

Ireland full-back Hugo Keenan also returns to the starting XV after not featuring in the Champions Cup since the last 16 because of injury.

Lock and co-captain James Ryan, who like Keenan returned from injury in defeat by Ulster last weekend, is named on the bench.

Number eight Caelan Doris will continue as captain after his impressive performance as skipper in the semi-final win against Northampton.

Centre Garry Ringrose, who has not played since the final game of the Six Nations because of a shoulder injury, misses out and so 22-year-old Jamie Osborne continues in the midfield with Robbie Henshaw.

Other tight selection calls sees wing Jordan Larmour edge out Jimmy O'Brien, who recently returned to fitness, with utility back Ciaran Frawley on the bench as Leinster again go for a 6-2 spilt between forwards and backs.

Kinghorn & Willis start for Toulouse

Toulouse's big selection call came at full-back with Scotland full-back Blair Kinghorn getting the nod ahead of France international Thomas Ramos.

England's Jack Willis starts at flanker as he aims to win his first Champions Cup after ruling himself out of international rugby to remain in France.

Dupont again partners Romain Ntamack, who has impressed since coming back from a nasty knee injury that ruled the fly-half out of the World Cup.

Toulouse have also named exciting 21-year-old centre Paul Costes in the midfield alongside Tonga international Pita Ahki.

Flanker Joshua Brennan, the son of former Ireland international Trevor Brennan, is the only change to the matchday 23 from their semi-final victory over Harlequins.


Leinster: Keenan; Larmour, Henshaw, Osborne, Lowe; R Byrne, Gibson-Park; Porter, Sheehan, Furlong, McCarthy, Jenkins, Baird, Connors, Doris (capt).

Replacements: Kelleher, Healy, Ala'alatoa, Ryan, Conan, McGrath, Frawley, Van der Flier.

Toulouse: Kinghorn; Mallia, Costes, Ahki, Lebel; Ntamack, Dupont (capt); Baille, Mauvaka, Aldegheri, Flament, Meafou, Willis, Cros, Roumat.

Replacements: Marchand, Neti, Merkler, Arnold, Brennan, Graou, Chocobares, Ramos.

Referee: Matthew Carley (Eng)