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Thursday 8 December 2016

Des Berry: Blues run out of ideas - and points

Leinster fade as French giants turn up power

Rhys Ruddock on the burst for Leinster during the Champions Cup match against Toulon at the Aviva Stadium Photo:Sportsfile
Rhys Ruddock on the burst for Leinster during the Champions Cup match against Toulon at the Aviva Stadium Photo:Sportsfile
Leinster coach Leo Cullen on the sideline at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening Photo:Sportsfile

So it came to pass. That on the fourth day Leinster raised their game, but not for long enough.

They broke their own in-house record with a fourth straight defeat, five if you count the quarter-final loss to you-know-who last season.

It all began in a welter of excitement as Leinster played at a tempo that almost took them out of reach. Almost.

Devin Toner nabbed Toulon's first throw. Rob Kearney's passing was sweeter than it has been for a while.

Richardt Strauss did a fair impression of Steffon Armitage on the floor to force three points from the rehabilitated boot of Jonathan Sexton.

Mike McCarthy was looking like anything but an 'o ld banger' on his 300th appearance at his fourth club, leading the way physically.

Toulon number eight Duane Vermeulen was binned on twelve minutes for his naughty work.

The instincts of that most intelligent wing wizard Bryan Habana prevented a try for Rob Kearney.

Rhys Ruddock charged around like a runaway rhinoceros. The Leinster maul splintered Toulon for five points, soon turned to seven by Sexton.

Floated

Matt Giteau's restart floated out on the full.

Toulon's first concerted period of pressure moved ominously. Isa Nacewa gambled and lost out to Juan Smith as he shot up out of the line for the lead to be halved in the 27th minute.

Ruddock set off again, careering on, just running away from the support of Sexton on his inside shoulder.

Cian Healy's friend Guilhem Guirado failed to use arms in the tackle and soon coughed up three more to Sexton in the 34th minute.

Delon Armitage's petulance cost the French another penalty to leave Leinster in front and in command 16-5 at the interval.

It all looked so rosy in the garden.

Defence coach Kurt McQuilkin had his say: "it is just a case of keeping it up."

However, Leinster were not able to fully bloom from there.

Toulon got them into a chokehold and never let them out of it.

The suffocation began in earnest with Mathieu Bastareaud's shuddering hit on Rob Kearney. It was a statement of intent.

Nacewa was still hitting like a heavyweight. Vermeulen felt his power.

Toulon had to have access. They started to control the pace and the pill.

Sean Cronin's overthrown lineout was an invitation they wouldn't turn down.

They churned out a penalty try and crushed a second in seven minutes from that dominant maul.

There was no way back out of a black hole.

Leinster were on their knees just about down and out.

The minds were willing. The flesh was weak to drive them back onto the front-foot.

"They just wore us down with power. That is the reality," said coach Leo Cullen.

He couldn't have put in any more accurately. Too big. Too strong. Too good.

"It is just such small margins. We needed to get a lot of things right on the day.

"We got a lot of them right in the first half. We just let it slip in the second," he added.

"There's definitely areas where we could have managed our territory (better) and some of the execution let us down at times."

From here, Cullen will have to pick up the broken pieces and bodies.

It will give him time and space to work away on his overall template on how to get Leinster back to the top table in Europe.

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