Friday, January 11, 2019

Preview : Leinster v Toulouse



There may be four stars on Leinster's jersey but for this particular group under this particular coaching setup, the 2018/19 campaign is a bit like a tricky second album.

Given Leo Cullen's introduction to European rugby was an RDS thumping by Wasps, it could be argued that to all intents and purposes he was starting from scratch but after a period of gradually feeding the next generation of ready-to-go stars into the senior team, he cracked it with a nigh-on perfect season last year.

And by starting this year's defence with an almost poetic reversal of that Wasps humiliation, it looked like star number five was ours for the taking, until we were brought back down to earth by another multiple European champion heading back from an even longer trough in their graph of success.

That defeat in Toulouse could be spun as a good thing for us, a wake-up call of sorts.  But the only way we'll know for sure is if we can come out on top in Saturday's lunchtime kickoff (blech).

Rugby is a sport that comes with a lot of norms and assumptions, but there's one that cannot be so much as considered this weekend, namely ‘French teams don't travel’.  If you approach a game thinking a team containing names like Médard, Huget, Kolbe and Kaino isn't going to perform then you're fooling yourself.

Every time I have watched them play this season one thing stood out the most; if you make even the slightest mistake they have a host of ways to take advantage. For this reason a sensible way for most teams to approach the game would be to tend to give them the ball and concentrate on a structured defence, and Leinster certainly have the ability and personnel to do just that.

But then again, arrogant though it may sound, most would agree Leinster are not ‘most’ teams. I can definitely see us resorting to the box kick more than most would like (Adam Byrne’s party piece seems to be retrieving them more often than not), but only because that's something we do anyway.  I really can't see us altering our regular game too much, especially without Johnny Sexton.

So if that's the case then there's only one thing for it - we have to be nigh on perfect on Saturday.  Carries and offloads can't be dropped. Lineouts have to go exactly how the call demands.  And only a couple of weeks after Thomond Park, discipline has to be pristine (to be fair we did well v Ulster but with a very different team).

Lady luck will have to play a part as well.  No offence to anyone in our backline but unlike our opposition, this is quite a ways from our elite selection.  Of course they have the ability and you can be sure they'll be well prepared, but just one injury could throw it all into disarray quickly.

As always I'm looking at our centres. The O’Loughlin / Ringrose axis did very well against Bath but this challenge is on a whole other level.   In their opposite numbers they have Ntamac who has just been called up to the French squad and Guitoune who is a try-scoring machine of a 13.

Up front were going to be relying heavily on gain line busting carries from the likes of Cronin, Furlong, Ryan and Conan along with the breakdown prowess of Fardy and JVDF to keep us where we need to be.

Despite all the possible pitfalls however, I remain reasonably confident.  The bookies have us winning by 9 and I'd definitely take that now even without a try bonus.  But I have a feeling it could be a relatively high-scoring squeaky-bum kind of clash though I'll go for Leinster to make the most of home advantage to finish on top by 5-7 points.

Obviously we don't want our guests to get away with a match point but I'm assuming they'll be top of their game in which case we'll most likely be glad of the win at that stage.

Here's to another classic European day at the RDS.  Sellout crowd, eight titles between the teams, first place in the pool on the line; the eyes of the whole rugby world will be on us (especially as it's on the free to air telly now) so hopefully we'll give them something amazing to remember (for Leinster of course)!!! JLP


Toulouse : 15. Maxime Médard, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Sofiane Guitoune, 12. Romain Ntamack, 11. Yoann Huget, 10. Thomas Ramos, 9. Antoine Dupont, 1. Clément Castets, 2. Julien Marchand (c), 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Richie Arnold, 5. Joe Tekori, 6. Francois Cros, 7. Rynhardt Elstadt, 8. Jerome Kaino.
Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Cyril Baille, 18. Dorian Aldegheri, 19. Piula Faasalele, 20. Louis Madaule, 21. Alban Placines, 22. Sébastien Bézy, 23. Zack Holmes.

Heineken Champions Cup 2018/19 Round 5
Saturday, January 12, 2019
KO: 1pm
RDS Arena

Referee: Luke Pearce (ENG)
AR1: Tom Foley (ENG)  
AR2: Jonathan Healy (ENG)  
TMO: Graham Hughes (ENG)
Live on Virgin Media 1, Channel 4, BT Sport 2

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