Sunday 25 February 2018

O'Connor working to use lessons learned from last year to knock Toulon out of European Cup

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor

Coach Matt O'Connor has designed a game plan Leinster have failed to carry out on too many occasions this season before they make their way south to Marseille for The Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday (KO3.15 Irish time, Sky Sports 2).

The fact is the Australian came closer in his previous incarnation as Leicester Tigers head coach in 2013, losing out 21-15 in the quarter-final, than he did in his first season at Leinster (29-14).

Could it be third time lucky? The odds are stacked against it.

There is not much consolation to be found in looking for weaknesses in the rock solid champions.

"They haven't got many, we've spent the majority of our time concentrating on what we need to deliver on and it's largely irrelevant looking at them.

"They've got a fantastic side, a great squad and they've been very successful over the last couple of seasons because they have world class players across the pitch.

"There's not a lot of weaknesses in their side. We know we're going to have to deliver on our bits as well as we can, play as well as we can and certainly, if we don't, we won't be in the contest."

The best indicator of what Toulon will produce on Sunday comes from what they showed in last year's quarter-final, not last week against Grenoble in The Top-14 or in the quarter-final against Wasps.

"One of the big mistakes we made last year was looking at their form," he said.

"The reality of it was that we had a lot of guys coming back off the Six Nations, having just beaten France, so we were probably a bit confident that we could go down there off the back of that victory.

"Looking at Toulon's form, we were in a pretty good frame of mind in relation of what we could deliver."

The reality of what they found in Stade Felix Mayol was a thundering Toulon hell bent on showing Leinster there were new champions in Europe.

"Toulon we're 20, 30, 40pc better than that had been at any time last season," he conceded.

"We know the class they've got in their roster. We know they've got world class players in every position.

"We know we're preparing for a battle that's going to be as big a game as Leinster's ever had and we'll see where we end up at the end of it."

The benefit of hindsight and the experience from being in Felix Mayoel may work for Leinster at Stade Velodrome.

"It's a huge part of it. It was the first time that Leinster had played Toulon. It was the first time that we've been down there and that changes the dynamic.

"We have got that understanding now of how good they are and we're braced and we're set up for an enormous battle.

"And we understand their strengths and weaknesses a little bit better, and how they approach the game and all the opportunities that that presents.

"It's certainly an advantage."

Maybe, just maybe, Munster's approach against Toulon in the semi-final will be holstered by Leinster.

"We looked at our game in relation to what Munster went down with and delivered in their semi-final.

"They managed the game significantly better than we did.

"You can't absorb against Toulon. They're too good.

"You've got to make your opportunities first and foremost, and you've got to execute on them."

toulon v leinster, live sky sports 2, Sunday (ko 3.15)

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