Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF):
Leinster Rugby ARE capable of beating RC Toulon in Marseille this Sunday!
So here we are building up to arguably the biggest game for Leinster Rugby in the last 5 years. After the season we’re having, the team (and individuals therein) who are experiencing a downturn need to prove to themselves that they still have that appetite within them, that their DNA that so effectively achieves at national level can do the same on this occasion.
Now in recent pieces, I have written on the current issues, from whether the continued road Leinster are going down (or being taken down by coach Matt O’Connor?) is Insanity or part of the cycle of rugby life. Likewise, I’ve questioned whether the players are partly to blame, a mix of issues or whether we should can take this Laighin down? All these pieces have covered most aspects of the review and development of what’s required for an organisation, which ever method you prefer to choose to look at what’s going on at Leinster in the widest terms let alone on the field itself, have all covered the Strategies, Current situation, Requirements & Solutions. Also my views on money & power affecting the game are well documented though as we’ve seen with football, money doesn’t ALWAYS buy you continued success year on year and I’m hoping this sunday will prove just that!
Whatever has been written and by whom, the facts (currently) speak for themselves, on track for the worst record in 10 - 11 years and realistically going to miss out on the play-offs for the first time since they were introduced 5 years ago!
Rugby Club Toulonnais (Toulon / RCT):
Lets face it, the playing staff at Toulon are more akin to a Baa Baas side with the funds that their chairman has forked out. Their strength in depth IS unbelievable but 4 stand out who can change the shape of the game.
Playing at No 7 Steffon Armitage together with Mathieu Bastareaud in the Centre at 13 are two of the best clearout / rucking specialists in the world currently. The strength and speed with which they can move is awesome. Also in the Centre channels and back from injury is Matt Giteau at 12 who will provide a huge uplift to Toulon for the rest of the season and who I believe will be THE playmaker on Sunday IF given the space to do so. Finally, legendary Tighthead Prop and Captain, Carl Hayman. A talisman in the Toulon team who will rally them till the last minute.
They are at their best in two areas though, when they get turnover ball and move it outside quickly to the wings and in the first 20-30 minutes where they push hard to get a couple of tries and penalties on the board. Stop them doing this and they do become rattled.
All this said, they are back to back European Rugby Champions and aiming to become the first team ever to win 3 in a row.
It’s hard when you look at the strength in depth but yes Toulon do have weaknesses. One of those is Fly Half Freddie Michalak who as with the French national team, you’re not quite sure which one will turn up? That said he put 18 points on the board against Wasps in the Quarter Final and 15 of those were in the first half! Also their pack whilst full of world stars, is now ageing and they are past their best but Leinster will need to rattle them hard in the first and last 20 minutes to ensure domination. Dominate their lineout and scrum cos there’s mileage there!
It looks like they will be without Leigh Halfpenny at Full Back. This will be a loss to them. They have failed to really spark this season compared to previous seasons. They have lost 8 from 22 in the French Top 14 league (despite remaining top currently) and the quarter final game against Wasps showed that IF you take the game to them and attack then they are beatable.
Oh and on Monsieur Bastareaud, if you go around him then there’s an exploitable weakness. He’s strong but not that agile. Take a look from 1 Min into this clip to see how Wasps did just that and went around Bastareaud to score a try.
Perhaps it’s age, over confidence or just the end of the (current) run for this squad of players, but they are showing chinks of weakness that can be exploited. They missed 11 tackles in the 2nd half against Wasps which in turn gave Wasps some 233 metres made. There’s a lesson there!
This is simple! If Leinster Rugby turn up and play the defensive style of hybrid rugby that we have for most of this season and / or try and win by points and / or attempt to close the game out from 50 - 60 out if we have managed to put points against them, then RC Toulon will punish us. Toulon don’t need many opportunities. They take them! Simples!
The threats to Toulon are more from what Leinster CAN bring to the game. Internally, it’s only if the fail to get a great start and/or a great finish. Stifle their play, take the game to them and we are a threat. When they are rattled, they’re a threat to themselves.
Leinster have the individual players who can definitely take the game to Toulon. Twice European Champions and reigning Pro 12 holders, we have the experience from our successes in recent years, the class & skill of elite individual players and a proven track record for many of those with the Irish national team this season.
If MO’C picks a 10/12/13 of Gopperth/Madigan & Te’o, I feel we will need the luck of the gods to bring it off. If he chooses as an example Madigan/D’Arcy/Fitzgerald, we’ll have a great chance. The experience and defensive strength of Mad Dog, D’Arce & Luke also combines an awesome attacking combo and allows for the correct style of game from the outset. The thought of this excites me!!
In this years European Cup, we have conceded least penalties with 8 per game. That’s a great defensive position to have.
Those likely to win it for Leinster will be Cian Healy in the pack and his “taming” of Carl Hayman at the scrum. Skipper Jamie Heaslip needs to have a huge game in every manner, both as player but also as the leader. Dev Toner at 6’10’’ is a true game changer but requires straight, accurate and precision darts to him at the lineout. As for the remainder, the centre channel is covered above and is BUSINESS CRITICAL in the selection of it to our chances. Finally an strong effective game by the Tullow Tank, Sean O’Brien will affect how the game goes.
As with the selection issues above, the wrong centre channel selection is potentially a weakness. Yes both Te’o and Gopperth have been scoring tries of late, but the inconsistency of Jimmy plus the fact that Ben Te’o is still learning his trade in the new code leaves a gap.
You cannot play a true attacking game by giving the ball to players at standstill. You must have vision and run onto the ball at pace with angle as see in this clip here by Jordi Murphy against Glasgow recently.
The mindset of the players is currently a weakness. Whether it is down to the coach(es) or lack of belief owing to a poor run overall this season or whatever is the real issue………..it’s an issue. Defensively trying to win the game by points and/or failing to close out the game correctly is a huge weakness.
Finally we need to ensure that EVERY tackle is made, every man counts and that each player dominates his area, his position and anything that comes into that space. Likewise stop with wasted box kicking. It merely gives away possession and we WILL be punished.
WE have so much talent and so many opportunities on paper, it’s unreal. Attacking hard and putting Toulon on the back foot especially in the first 20 minutes will see rewards and I believe set the tone for the game. Likewise finishing the final quarter with players coming off the bench (and yes I look forward to Jimmy Gopperth, Ben Te’o et al adding value at that stage) and the willingness to keep a strong attacking set of plays will throw up opportunities for Leinster.
It IS there for the taking BUT we must both make and take our opportunities when they come.
The threats to Leinster outweigh of the Toulon positives above are themselves, the selection and the mindset. These three issues ARE and WILL have a huge affect on the game.
(Oh and Wayne Barnes as referee is NOT a threat! You know how he refs, his style, his nuances etc etc . Play your own game, be mindful of his likes and dislikes and get on with it!!)
The game, like any cup tie, is open to whoever turns up on the day, plays the best rugby and wants it most. Toulon HAVE weaknesses but are still a strong and formidable side, currently top of French Top 14, reigning European Rugby Champions and with a squad of world class individual players that they have moulded into a super team………….
……………..Leinster need to do the following and if they do, have a fantastic opportunity to make it to Twickenham for the Final;
1.Don’t give RC Toulon too much respect!
2.Attack from the first minute!
3.Don’t take them on physically except in the scrum and breakdown!
4. Don’t play for penalties and attempt to win defensively through points!
5. Go around Bastareaud cos you ain’t going through him!
6. Watch Bastareaud and Armitage at the breakdown. Get over the ball, protect it and
whichever Scrum Half is chosen, get in there reddanly (oops freudian slip No 1!)
readily or they’ll take the ball!
7.Don’t waste possession on ridiculous boss kicks (Ooops sorry freudian slip No2!),
Box Kicks OR trying to kick into the wind unless we can guarantee our wingers / others
are going to be there first!
8.Watch Matt Giteau in the Centre for his lightning breaks and ability to change the pace
and flow of the game!
9.Attack…...Attack…..Attack at every opportunity! It puts the opposition on the back foot.
10.We need to be adaptable. We need power and pace and the requisite leadership on
the park to change accordingly!
11.The game is finished when and ONLY when the referee blows the final whistle. Until
then you leave EVERYTHING on the park!
As I have previously opined, I’m not a fan of MO’C as Head Coach at Leinster merely because he doesn’t suit what style of play we both require and indeed expect. I have studied him, his record and hybrid rugby in an attempt to understand. My expectation at all levels though is high, I make NO apologies for that. That’s what drives me, that’s how I played and that’s what I expect. Have a game plan, be adaptable, be flexible, give it your all, leave holding your head up high…..even if it is in defeat.
I have and will remain constructive in my comments and expectations from the Board of Leinster Rugby down to each individual player but will never accept a team winning by either relying on other teams to fail and do us “A favour?” or by being defensive in the manner in which we play. You might get away with it once or twice but not over the course of the season as we have shown! I expect our beloved team to go down fighting for 80 minutes or however long it takes so if we don’t succeed at least we haven’t given away a lead or failed to show 100% commitment or let the fans, the Province and themselves down.
I firmly and genuinely believe in timing. Sometimes the timing is ripe to take a victory even when everyone is writing you off. This weekend, this Sunday in Marseille, France, I believe that Leinster Rugby will pull off an historic victory against the mighty French Baa Baas of Rugby Club Toulonnais and show the world that money can’t buy everything and put the belief back into Leinster for everyone's sakes.
Leinster to win by 25 - 17
#COYBIB # twickersawaits #fourthstaronthejersey
The Big Fella