Friday, December 11, 2015

Preview : Toulon v Leinster


“Come back Matt all is forgiven” is a sentence you won’t hear from Leinster fans any time soon yet while his methods didn’t suit us in general, against this opposition in particular they literally got us within a whisker of a European final.

Obviously I’m not saying we need to replicate that display exactly, but I certainly don’t think anything close to “champagne rugby” is going to get us very far in the Stade Mayol.

But before I harp on any more about what we need to do to win, let me first deal with all the doom and gloom surrounding the fixtures for all three Irish provinces in the Heineken Plus One Cup this weekend.

We have certainly gotten used to success in this competition. “Grand Slam weekends” for the provinces were far from unheard of.   Now the landscape is much different and the pulling power of the English & French clubs has increased considerably over the years as they managed to move the goalposts and ignore their own salary caps.

And the current situation isn’t all their doing....as I said earlier in the week, Leinster, Munster and Ulster have all struggled to integrate the World Cup players back into their squads and the performances have suffered as a result.

But I sincerely hope the coaches & players involved take the above realities as a challenge rather than a portent of certain doom.  I see several commentators predicting a bleak weekend for Irish rugby ahead and all I’m saying is that it all depends on what we’re looking for.

In Leinster’s case, it’s not often I say I’d be happy in any way with a defeat, but if we come out of this fixture knowing Laporte’s men had to play to the fullest extent of their uber-rich squad to beat us, then we’ll be left with plenty to bring forward to the rest of the season.

But if you try to tell me there’s no way we can win on Sunday, I hope you set aside some time because I’ll spend every minute possible in an effort to convince you otherwise.  And like I said earlier, the starting point is our D.

Thanks largely to the return of Kurt McQuilkin we’ve the best defensive record in the Pro12 and even our “0-for-2” in Europe is down more to individual errors and poor scrummaging than it is shabby coverage.  That said, we haven’t played a centre pairing anywhere near as powerful as Ma’a Nonu and Mathieu Bastareaud yet.

Now in some ways, our postponement last week was a blessing for us as we probably needed the extra week to regroup.  But in other ways, it would have been good for Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te’o to get another 80 minutes under their belts because I really think this could be a pairing that could work for us well this season, especially if we can keep the two of them on the pitch between now and the end of January at least.

Either way they’ll have their work cut out against their opposite numbers on Sunday, and of course we’ll need a 15-man effort to keep the home side at bay.  And while some might say it’s a European baptism of fire for young Josh van der Flier, I say he could well be the ace in our pack.  

He has shown absolutely no fear at the breakdown this season - of course he hasn’t come across the likes of Gorgodze, Steffon, Vermeulen and Smith as yet, but there is no doubt that he has earned this golden opportunity to show what he can do at this level.

Next we must look at the one name on the team sheet that probably had a large chunk of Leinster fans groaning - Isaac Boss.  Personally, I don’t think the groans are that warranted - IMO his form wouldn’t make a top 5 list of our problems this season.  That said, his presence on the team sheet is the biggest indicator as to our intentions; if we are to be denied the quick ball, we will definitely need a solid display from him in other areas like box kicking.

Then there’s Johnny.  No need for any of us to point out he hasn’t been at his best, he’ll tell you that himself.  But despite the scoreline, there were definite signs against Ulster his form is on an upward curve.  On Sunday, I don’t want him to try too hard to bamboozle the Toulon D.  

As much as a kicking territory game is unpleasant on the eye, if he can keep the home side playing in their own half for the majority of the 80 minutes that will be job done for me, particularly if the likes of Nacewa and McFadden can keep the pressure on with the kick chase.

Nigel Owens as ref is generally a good thing, but when it comes to forcing turnovers at the breakdown we’re going to have to be extra accurate.  That said, so will the likes of Steffon Armitage.

Look...the bookies make Toulon favourites by 15 points and I can have no arguments with that.  My own prediction is that we’ll just about pinch a losing bonus point and I know even that’s very optimistic, because when you add our Euro form to their talent and home advantage you only see one side coming out on top.

And I also know that the way I’m saying we should play pretty much goes against everything about the “Leinster Way” we’ve been wanting Leo Cullen to re-introduce to our style since his appointment.  Thing is though, you have to play the team you’re facing, and the team we face on Sunday have three stars on their jersey just like us.  If we play within ourselves and find the right accuracy, we can remind folks once more how we got ours.  

Come on you boys in blue.  JLP

PS - Hope you can make it to Donnybrook tonight for the “A” team who face Ealing Trailfinders in the British & Irish Cup.  If not, I’ll be doing a liveblog here on the site from 7pm, why don't you join me.

TOULON : 15. Delon Armitage; 14. Bryan Habana, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 11. Drew Mitchell; 10. Matt Giteau, 9. Eric Escande
1. Florian Fresia, 2. Guilhem Guirado, 3. Matt Stevens, 4. Samu Manoa, 5. Romain Taofifenua, 6. Mamuka Gorgodze, 7. Steffon Armitage, 8. Duane Vermeulen
16. Anthony Etrillard, 17. Xavier Chiocci, 18. Levan Chilachava, 19. Juan Smith, 20. Tom Taylor, 21. Maxime Mermoz, 22. Anthony Meric, 23. Jocelino Suta

European Rugby Champions Cup 2015/16 Pool 5 Round 3
Sunday, December 13, 2015
At Stade Mayol, 3pm. Live on Sky Sports
Referee Nigel Owens (Wales)
Touch Judge 1 Gwyn Morris (Wales)
Touch Judge 2 Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO Derek Bevan (Wales)
Citing Commissioner John Byett(England)

LEINSTER “A” to play Ealing : 15. Cian Kelleher 14. Darragh Fanning 13. Colm O'Shea 12. Steve Crosbie 11. Mick McGrath 10. Cathal Marsh 9. Charlie Rock
1. Peter Dooley 2. Bryan Byrne 3. Michael Bent 4. Gavin Thornbury 5. Tadhg Beirne 6. Josh Murphy 7. Dan Leavy 8. Peadar Timmins CAPTAIN
Replacements 16. Sean McNulty 17. Royce Burke-Flynn 18. David O'Connor 19. Tony Ryan 20. Matthew D'Arcy 21. Harrison Brewer 22. Ian Fitzpatrick
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