Thursday, April 16, 2015

Leinster v Toulon - The Semi Final Skirmish

Emma McGarry's thoughts on the build up to the Leinster v Toulon clash in Marseille this Sunday...

From a spectator’s point of view, Leinster haven’t had the big performance yet this season and they’re leaving it quite late in the day. But the boys in blue can pull it off, they’ve done it before and they can do it again. Yes, Toulon are the “big, scary” French side but so what? At the end of the day it’s 80 minutes of rugby, one match.

All the focus should be on those 80 minutes not what might happen afterwards, not the Pro12, not previous European semi-finals, just the task at hand. The only effect Leinster’s previous victories should have on this match is the reassurance and confidence to know that they have the players and talent to win. According to Irish Independent’s Tony Ward “Toulon test (is) not mission impossible for Leinster,” and I agree with him completely. Whilst you could say Leinster are lucky to be there, so are Saracens. So is every team that makes it this far into the Champions Cup. Obviously a great amount of work and preparation is put into getting there but surely there’s an element of luck.

Wayne Barnes, a man who has a very dodgy understanding of the scrum in my opinion, has been confirmed as referee for Leinster’s semi-final against champions Toulon. The only consistency in his refereeing is the inconsistency of his calls. Week in week out, “you’re not rolling away” when the player has made a blatant effort to do so,  getting pinged for causing little or no interference with the ruck. Barnes generally has no flow to his matches which makes for poor watching, it also doesn’t help the players settle into the game. 

Sean Cronin said a “long review on Wayne Barnes with Joe Schmidt after Cardiff clash will stand to us,” maybe that will be enough to give them an advantage over the home side. “I believe that each individual is going to have to play their best game, maybe in their careers, if not the season to get a result over there on Sunday,” Cronin told RTÉ Sport. “It doesn’t get much bigger than this. It’s going to be a huge challenge, going over to the two-time champions [who] are looking for their third. It’s a daunting task but I think we’ve got the group of players here to go over there and get a win. There’s a lot of experience here, having gone to France before and won.”

As for Jimmy Gopperth, whilst occasionally his kicking slips below standard and sometimes unnecessarily gives away possession, he injects spark and hunger into the team when they need it most. A recent example, his try against Dragons was an amazing individual effort, lovely inside step, avoiding the Welsh tackles like the plague. Gopperth will most likely be starting at 10 and I’d like to think Madigan will start at 12 taking penalties and conversions. 

I like his confidence in the team’s ability to win, and he seems to have no fear of Bastareaud stampeding towards him in a red jersey, it’s admirable. “You gotta go in ready to tackle and get right up in their faces,” he said talking to Newstalk, "we have been poor this year. We haven't gelled together. We have to be better than that and make the opportunities count when get the opportunities to wear the blue jersey."

Even if Madigan starts, D’Arcy deserves some game time against Toulon, Leinster need the experience of a player like him to survive this match. And he certainly showed us there’s life in the old dog yet during the Dragons match last weekend. If chaos descends on the field during the second half perhaps it would be worth thinking about bringing him on.

They need to focus on their set piece in this match and bear in mind that Toulon have one of the worst line outs in the competition. Identify their weaknesses, though there are few, and exploit them. Keep ball in hand, hold on to possession, win the ball at the breakdown and the scoring opportunities will come. Leinster will also have to make use of their ball carriers, Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip who can get them over the gainline.

Team I reckon can take on Toulon

15  Rob Kearney 14  Dave Kearney 13  Ben Te’o 12  Ian Madigan 11  Luke Fitzgerald 10 Jimmy Gopperth 9  Eoin Reddan

1  Cian Healy 2  Sean Cronin 3  Mike Ross 4  Devin Toner 5  Mike McCarthy 6  Jordi Murphy 7  Sean O’Brien 8  Jamie Heaslip CAPTAIN

Replacements: 16  Richardt Strauss 17  Jack McGrath 18  Marty Moore 19  Tom Denton 20  Dominic Ryan 21  Isaac Boss 22  Gordon D’Arcy 23  Fergus McFadden 

Match is live on Sky Sports at 15:15 19th April 2015

Emma McGarry - Hugely interested in all aspects of rugby. Supporter of Irish and Leinster Rugby. "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad" - Brian O'Driscoll

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