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Sunday 11 December 2016

Luke Fitzgerald: We can stop Toulon in their tracks

Fitzgerald maintains belief that Blues can halt Toulon's three-in-a-row

Luke Fitzgerald, Leinster
Luke Fitzgerald, Leinster

Were Leinster to topple Toulon, Luke Fitzgerald would view the win as "probably the biggest in our history" in France.

"Clermont in 2012 probably springs to mind in terms of something that's similar for us," he said.

"But I think given that these guys are two-times champions, that's probably why it trumps it. They've got the pedigree.

"Clermont are still searching for that first European glory.

"I think knowing how to win the comp probably gives them a slight edge over that Clermont team."

In order to dispose of the reigning champions, Leinster will have to roll back the years to a recent time when they were the most feared club in Europe.

The tables have turned so quickly, you couldn't blame Leinster for being in a spin.

"If you talk about mind-set, at this stage of the year, every game is a final. We have to leave it all out there."

repackaged

The Heineken Cup of 2009, 2011 and 2012 was a different competition to the newly repackaged Champions Cup.

The heavyweight influence of Mourad Boudjellal and his coach Bernard Laporte, from 2011, was simmering away without coming to the boil.

Leinster made winners; Toulon have simply purchased them at a premium price.

"All of us have grown up in the jersey watching (Denis) Hickie, (Brian) O'Driscoll and (Keith) Gleeson, idolising these guys.

"Some of the guys we have now are winners, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Seán O'Brien.

"I don't really feel that if we perform to our potential that there is a better team out there than us," he shared.

This was tempered with the reality that the French club is piled high with internationals, World Cup winners, who have scaled the heights of the game.

"You might have a couple of those winners across the park, but they have 15 of them, World Cup winners and the whole lot all over the place."

The pre-match banter last year was partly about Leinster's love of the blue jersey against Toulon's love of the green.

The real truth was that Toulon's superstars were winners long before they were this well paid.

"I think if you look at the last two or three years, I think you can only really judge a team on how successful they've been," stated Fitzgerald.

"I think a group of mercenaries wouldn't be able to achieve what they've achieved in the last two seasons.

"They've been the outstanding team in Europe, no question."

The Irish winger is in flying form this season now that his hip/groin injury is a distant memory.

He has talked of how Leinster coach Matt O'Connor has been a part of his comeback, never losing patience in his player.

There is a close relationship there, an unbreakable bond.

"I'm comparing him to Joe and I probably think that's a little bit unfair.

"Joe is obviously an unbelievable coach, one of the best in the world.

"I think he probably had a different group of guys with him - that probably hasn't been said.

"You know, Leo (Cullen), Drico' (Brian O'Driscoll) at his prime, Sexto (Jonathan Sexton), Isa (Nacewa), different personnel.

"Not to say that the guys now aren't great players, but those guys were pretty phenomenal in fairness."

The aura of invincibility that surrounds Toulon does not come down to their style of play.

They reduce the game down to the basics, based on set-piece domination and putting their large moving carriers on the ball often and close to the action until the time is right to release the quick men.

"It's definitely a daunting prospect, no doubt. They're obviously - it goes without saying - an outstanding team. They have talent throughout the team," admitted Fitzgerald.

"I think there's definitely huge belief amongst the squad that we can turn around a lot of ordinary enough performances, littered with a couple of good ones.

"If I was to be pragmatic, if you look at the squad and year we've had, people are talking about up and down performances, players have been out injured, Seán O'Brien, Rhys Ruddock, Fergus McFadden.

"So getting time together on the training pitch should benefit us.

abilities

"We know we didn't perform to the best of our abilities against Bath.

"But we know, with a couple of adjustments that we're looking to make this week, and with a change of mindset in terms of backing ourselves more, we're more than capable of going there and getting a result.

"I think we should back ourselves to hang on to the ball, get a penalty or break them down. So that's one of the things we're trying to change for this weekend," he stressed. "When we talk about our performances, there's an awful lot left in us."

Will there be enough?

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