herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Nothing to lose for Leinster if they play Ringrose

Leinster's Garry Ringrose in action training in Belfield
Leinster's Garry Ringrose in action training in Belfield

We all know the probable pre-match team talk is? Match Toulon's physicality, cut down their space, neutralize the likes of Steffon Armitage and others over the ball, start the game well and don't let Toulon chance to settle.

Taking on Toulon on home soil, is similar to how opposition teams would approach playing the All Blacks. It's easier said than done.

But Leinster will take huge solace from their performance last year in Marseille. As rank underdogs that day, Leinster were an intercept try away from felling the French giants. Despite Toulon dominating in most facets of the game they couldn't shake off a brave and determined Leinster team.

It is a slightly different Leinster team this year however, and one would suspect a slightly more wary Toulon. For starters, Toulon are in front of their home crowd, and in the strange competition that is the French Top 14, teams hardly ever lose at home, it becomes a mental thing.

Toulon will also realise, just like Leinster, that another loss in such a tight group may potentially see them out as well. Toulon will be ready, their gravy train of former internationals desperate to impress their cash-rich and ambitious boss.

Leo Cullen may have viewed Toulon in France as a damage limitation, losing bonus point trip with an eye to getting the French champions back in the Aviva Stadium a week later for a win.

Unfortunately, due to the tight, unforgiving nature of this group this theory no longer really applies. Leinster must win plain and simple, and therefore must, like last year's quarter-finals, approach this game as a one-off knock-out fixture.

Invincible

Toulon looked ropey against Wasps in their opening Champions Cup match, but unfortunately for Leinster since that time they have looked more or less invincible, creating club history by thrashing perennial French bridesmaids Clermont away, and then last weekend running 11 tries past fellow top 14 opponents Agen.

By contrast Leinster's game against Glasgow was cancelled due to a rain-soaked pitch. From a preparation point of view it's hard to assess whether that is a good thing for Leinster or a bad one. At least they did not sustain any more injuries.

In 2004 Jamie Heaslip was named runner-up to Kiwi Jerome Kaino in the IRB World Youth Player of the year, both had just played in the U21 World Cup where Ireland had ended up an impressive tournament second behind Kaino's junior All Blacks.

Two months later Kaino was scoring his first try for the All Blacks. Heaslip on the other hand would be forced to wait another two full seasons for his international debut, against the Pacific Islands in 2006.

Last season Gary Ringrose was also amongst the nominations for the World Junior player of the year, after his sensational form for Ireland at the U20s World Cup, yet like Heaslip so many years ago, he is now struggling to grab a starting position in a Leinster team that has already entered the 'transitional rebuilding phase'.

In fact if Joe Schmidt has his way, then Ringrose may get his Irish cap before he can establish himself as a provincial regular, a certain Brian O'Driscoll comes to mind.

In my opinion, despite never playing at this level, Ringrose should start on wing this week. He is just the type of player that Toulon will know nothing about, they will certainly know enough about the current Leinster backline and will have studied hours of video footage.

Ringrose is an unknown and he may just catch them off guard, his inexperience is a bonus. Like O'Driscoll against France in Paris this is exactly the time to give a young up-and-coming player a chance, Leinster have nothing to lose. Otherwise Ringrose will be another season older before you know it. If he is good enough he is old enough.

Can Leinster win? Of course they can, in much the same way that Japan beat South Africa in the recent World Cup. Leinster can win by playing as a team against a team of individual stars.

Despite their astronomical wage bill Toulon can struggle with consistency and team spirit. When things go wrong and because of their collection of players from all around the world with cultural and language differences, their first reaction is often to revert back to a team of individuals and they can give up, as they did against Wasps, they are not good at chasing games.

The secret is to take teams like Toulon out of their comfort zone, make then panic. Leinster then need to flood greater numbers to the rucks, simply because in the likes of Armitage and Basteraud they possess players who are quick onto the ball and hard to shift, the Leinster clear-out at second phase play must be low. Aggressive and in greater numbers.

Vary the play, keep it close with a pick and go game and then suddenly spread it wide.

Vary the lineout, restarts and the designated ball carriers and continue to keep Toulon guessing, they don't like unstructured play.

Johnny Sexton has the ability to win games on his own when he is in form, but sadly to date he has lacked that form this season, hopefully the World Cup hangover has gone from Leinster's elite players and they can shine.

I still feel that Toulon will be far too strong, and unless Leinster start the game well it could be a very long afternoon, but as the Japanese proved in the World Cup 'it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog'.

Leinster need to bring their best terrier impression to the south of France.

Promoted articles

Entertainment News