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Friday 2 December 2016

Some small crumbs for blues but It won't get easier

Devin Toner leaves the pitch after being sin-binned in Toulon
Devin Toner leaves the pitch after being sin-binned in Toulon

It was a mixed bag for the Irish provinces this weekend. Ulster started the positivity with an excellent win against Tolouse on Friday that would have given Leinster plenty of heart as they boarded the plane to the South of France, they would also have seen what Exeter had achieved in Clermont.

In the end, self-belief was not enough, and despite being in contention for most of the match, Toulon kicked on for a critical home win, despite not really showing too much quality. Leinster can take a lot of credit for their defensive efforts but never really looked like breaking out themselves, struggling throughout to match Toulon's power.

It was always going to be almost a tough ask for a Leinster team missing some key players and struggling for form to take on the might and muscle of Toulon.

To be honest, this is essentially a club team that could win a Six Nations tournament, and probably compete in a World Cup, such is their galaxy of world stars.

What coach would not salivate at having a backline that comprised the likes of Matt Giteau and Ma'a Nonu and a loose forward trio with at least seven international legends competing for three starting positions?

What Leinster could hope for in this match was to start well, stay in touch and push the aristocrats out of their comfort zone and despite Cian Healy's foolish sin-binning early on, Leinster were giving as good as they got.

In fact, Toulon seemed slightly disinterested for large periods of this game, despite always looking the stronger more powerful side. Up front Devin Toner was having a great game out of touch, Rhys Ruddock carried ball well, while open-side flanker Josh van der Flier is proving with every match that he has serious international credentials.

Struggling

Trailing by just one point at the break, Leinster had the perfect start into the second half, but Jonny Sexton, who seemed to be struggling in general, missed a very kickable shot at goal.

Leinster were not helping themselves in the second period especially when Toner was sin-binned. But despite plenty of huff and puff Toulon still struggled to break down Leinster's defence, having to rely on penalty kicks to extend their advantage.

But Toulon started to move the ball wider and you then had the feeling that Leinster were starting to struggle, especially in regards to conceding penalties, territory and possession.

Leinster started to lose their shape but in many ways that was a compliment to all the hard work that the Blues had done just to stay in this game.

So in the end, what we thought would happen occured: Leinster are out of Europe. But there is positives in the heart shown, their defence and the individual performances from the likes of Ruddock and Der Flier in particular. Unfortunately next week does not get any easier.

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