Tuesday 23 January 2018

Leinster looking to roll back the years

Toulon stars showing no signs of stopping

Far from putting Toulon on lay away last week, Leinster took the view that they would be better served by putting two weeks preparation into one game.

The initial price has been costly in that the Dragons almost definitely put paid to their fading PRO12 League prospects.

This immediately created an 'all eggs in one basket scenario' in the south of France.

"Listen, I think we're in a relatively good place," said Leo Cullen, the forwards coach.

"Everyone understands how difficult it is going to be, for sure, but, we need to make sure we have a real good, clear plan going into the game.

"It's about guys executing on that plan when they are out there."

There it is again. That word. Execution. It has been reported and repeated 'ad nauseum' as the reason Leinster can make amends for last year's quarter-final no show.

However, it was the physical domination of Toulon in the collisions that allowed them to take control.

Leinster have to stand up to the juggernaut Toulon eight with the heavyweight presence of Carl Hayman, locks Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha, Juan Smith, Juan Martin Fernandez and Chris Masoe reading like a 'who's who?' of international superstars.

"Toulon pose so many challenges," asserted Cullen.

"It's just making sure of making sure we have a real understanding of the threats they pose both when we have the ball and they have the ball."

This doesn't take into account the frightening array of daggers they have in attack where Bryan Habana, Matt Giteau and Mathieu Bastareaud will rely on the big men to provide a solid platform for their hit-and-miss half backs Sebastian Tillous-Borde and Frederic Michalak.

This is where a glimpse of positivity appears. There is no Steffon Armitage, restricted to bench duty, although Masoe is a master of the breakdown too.

"The thing that sets them apart over the last number of years is how aggressive they are at the breakdown," said Cullen.

"They flood bodies into that area. How they actually clamp guys into the space is questionable at times and how much release they get from their tackler, who allows some of their players to get into their poach position to get on the ball.

"So that's going to be a massive challenge for us, in how we deal with that."

The importance of Seán O'Brien to the cause cannot be overstated here.

Outside that, the main issue is the same this season as it had been for many of them.

Leinster are short on time. Shorter than ever given the squeezed nature of the end of the season with the World Cup on the horizon.

"We had a good get-together before the Bath game and reintegrated everyone back in," imparted Cullen.

"I thought for large parts of the game guys showed real good intensity. A couple of times we did get busted in defence which was disappointing but it's getting a lot of those back playing together.

"At least, they have had that game under their belts."

The decision was taken to withhold twelve of tomorrow's starters at Rodney Parade.

What was most interesting about this was the retention of Jimmy Gopperth and Ben Te'o at ten and twelve to further enhance a link that could well be Leinster's sharpest attacking means of making Toulon breakable.

Toulon: L Halfpenny; D Armitage, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, B Habana; F Michalak, S Tillous-Borde; X Chiocci, G Guirado, C Hayman (capt), B Botha, A Williams, J Smith, JM Fernandez, C Masoe.

Leinster: R Kearney; F McFadden, B Te'o, I Madigan, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Ross, D Toner, M McCarthy, J Murphy, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt).

Verdict: Toulon

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