LEINSTER ARE THE attacking champions for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, they’ve insisted that they are not defending their Heineken Champions Cup, instead underlining their determination to attack the competition afresh this season.
It’s a clever mindset to adopt and a simple sign of the mental strength of this Leinster group, a squad in which many of the emerging stars are every bit as ruthlessly-focused on winning as the established figures.
Secondly, Leo Cullen’s team are a force when they use the ball as effectively as they did last weekend against Wasps.
While there were moments of flair-laden creativity in the hammering of the Premiership side, every one of them was the perfect thing to do at exactly the right time – Johnny Sexton’s between-the-legs pass serving as a prime example. Nothing else in that moment would have freed Leinster to score down the left.
“There’s no one getting too excited here, I don’t think,” said Cullen again on Friday as he underlined that Leinster themselves aren’t buying into the hype brought about by their 52-3 win last time out.
The excitement about this team will grow again if they can replicate elements of that performance against Toulouse today [KO 3.15pm Irish time, BT Sport].
Another statement against the Top 14 side at Stade Ernest Wallon would be fitting, given that Toulouse are their fellow four-time champions in this competition.
The Toulouse side of the early 2000s that won two titles and lost a final in between was arguably the most attractive team to watch ever in the Heineken Cup, the likes of Frédéric Michalak, Yannick Jauzion, Clément Poitrenaud, Christian Labit and Fabien Pelous playing sublime rugby.
There were moments last weekend against Wasps when Leinster almost reminded one of that Toulouse team as they swept their way to eight tries.
But let us wait until later in the campaign until we truly consider that comparison, as Leinster go about ensuring that they can back up last season’s exploits with another title – one they will continue to attack.
Rather scarily, this Leinster team believe there is much, much more in them.
“We’re keen just to improve, keep getting better and better,” said Cullen. “There’s huge scope for us to get better.
“One thing we talked about this week is that doing it in the RDS is a totally different challenge to doing it away in France against a team that is going to be highly motivated off the back of a win away last week. If Toulouse win the game, they are out in front in the pool.”
The French side were fortunate that Freddie Burns had his mishap last time out against Bath, of course, but then Maxime Médard deserves his fair share of credit for that unforgettable incident.
His effort summed up how this Toulouse team is working hard to turn the club around after the troubles of recent seasons.
With talented young players like inside centre Romain Ntamack – son of the Toulouse great Émile – and fullback Thomas Ramos emerging, there is a sense of renewal about Ugo Mola’s team.
“They’re going back to their traditional roots with a lot of young players, with that international top-end experience as well,” said Cullen. “They have some very exciting talent, if you think about Ntamack and how dangerous he’s looked in his involvements.
“Ramos as well, Cheslin Kolbe, you think of Charlie Faumuina, Médard has been around for a hell of a long time, Yoann Huget on the bench, so they have tonnes of experience, and they’ve got that mix of the young exciting talent as well.”
Toulouse meet a Leinster side that is at a very different stage of its development, however; a team that looks settled and will expect to pick up where they left off last weekend.
Cullen has brought former Wallaby wing Joe Tomane into Leinster’s 14 shirt, with Jordan Larmour shifting into fullback to replace the injured Rob Kearney.
Meanwhile, vice-captain Rhys Ruddock starts in the back row a week after being a late injury replacement for Dan Leavy against Wasps.
With the likes of Johnny Sexton, James Lowe, Tadhg Furlong and the rest of Leinster’s cast of stars in fine form, an away win in France – even against the once-mighty Toulouse – looks probable.
15. Thomas Ramos
14. Cheslin Kolbe
13. Sofiane Guitoune
12. Romain Ntamack
11. Maxime Médard
10. Zack Holmes
9. Sébastien Bézy
1. Clément Castets
2. Julien Marchand
3. Charlie Faumuina
4. Florian Verhaeghe
5. Joe Tekori
6. Rynhardt Elstadt
7. Alban Placines
8. Selevasio Tolofua
16. Leonardo Ghiraldini
17. David Faimafiliotama’ita’i Ainuu
18. Maks Van Dyk
19. Pierre Gayraud
20. Louis Madaule
21. Yoann Huget
22. Antoine Dupont
23. Arthur Bonneval
15. Jordan Larmour
14. Joe Tomane
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. James Lowe
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Luke McGrath
1. Cian Healy
2. Seán Cronin
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Jack Conan
16. James Tracy
17. Jack McGrath
18. Andrew Porter
19. Scott Fardy
20. Seán O’Brien
21. Nick McCarthy
22. Ross Byrne
23. Rory O’Loughlin
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