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'Leinster or Munster of old would kick Toulon up and down the pitch'

Former Leinster players Victor Costello and Paul Wallace believe the European champions are beatable.

IT’S AN INTERESTING, if perhaps meaningless, debate.

How would the 2008 Munster vintage of the 2011 version of Leinster compete against this Toulon juggernaut?

The Top 14 side have won the last three Champions/Heineken Cups and their hunger for silverware appears unquenched. They’ve added Ma’a Nonu, Quade Cooper, Duane Vermeulen, Samu Manoa and James O’Connor, among others, this season.

Mathieu Bastareaud and Guilhem Guirado tackle Rob Kearney Leinster lost to Toulon in last season's Champions Cup semi-finals. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Those signings were, of course, offset by losses like captain Carl Hayman, locks Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha and the reliable Chris Masoe at number eight.

Nonetheless, Toulon remain an intimidating proposition as Leinster cling on to a very faint hope of European survival. After defeats to Wasps and Bath, they look down and out in Pool 5. Their only hope is to win in Stade Mayol on Sunday against the triple champions.

Former Leinster number eight Victor Costello – who played in the province’s first-ever Heineken Cup game 20 years ago and will be honoured alongside his teammates next week at the Aviva – isn’t convinced that Toulon are unbeatable.

“Everything is going against Leinster,” said Costello yesterday, “but sometimes when everything is going against you, you’ve no choice but to fight. I don’t have anything against Toulon, but they’re not what I would want in our game – which is a bunch of guys (looking for) a pension.

They’re winning, but I firmly believe they’re only winning because nobody has stood up to them. If you put the old Leinster team, or the Munster of old against Toulon, they’d kick them up and down the pitch. They’re a side that’s put together.

“Mercenaries, there’s no real tradition with any of them there. No loyalty, I don’t believe, but they’re good. They’re skillful, talented, experienced, but if you can get under that, and push them to play with their heart, you might expose them.”

Paul Wallace, another member of the Leinster side that opened their European odyssey in 1995 with a 24-21 win over a Milan team that included Diego Dominguez, is thinking along similar lines.

Victor Costello, Malcolm O'Kelly and Paul Wallace Costello, Malcolm O'Kelly and Wallace will be honoured at the Aviva next weekend. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Given the quality of Leinster’s players, he doesn’t think a victory on the road is impossible. Unlikely perhaps, but within the realms of possibility.

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“I think Toulon have got an amazing squad of players and the thing is with injuries it doesn’t really faze them because they can replace like for like,” said Wallace. “But I think in the front five, they’re a pretty new band of front five.

“Their scrum has been shown to come under pressure. It’s done well at times and then has been put under pressure. There’s a lot of experience there, but it’s very hard to go on as well and win it for a fourth time in a row.

“They’re certainly beatable, but it would take an expansive game, and I think they (Leinster) would need a lot of courage to keep the ball in hand, like we’ve seen from Munster in particular through the years, and we’ve seen from Leinster for that matter in the likes of the Toulouse win (in 05/06) and that, when no one gave them a chance.

“If you hang onto the ball, things start to go well and you’re accurate, Toulon are beatable.”

The main issue in all of this is that Leinster haven’t shown signs of hitting an attacking peak since the return of their international players from the World Cup. There have been glimpses of the quality Leo Cullen knows Johnny Sexton, Luke Fitzgerald and so many others possess, but they have been largely disappointing.

Jimmy Gopperth dejected at the final whistle Leinster forced Toulon into extra time in the semi-final last season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Costello acknowledges that fact but points out that oftentimes a sense of gloom and even the fear of doom brings out the best in the Irish provinces.

“Sometimes, when you’re down at the bottom, like we were here (at Lansdowne Road) in 2001 (in the Celtic League final against Munster), Matt Williams will tell you – we had 14 men.

“Eric Miller was sent off against Munster, and no one gave us a chance, and Matt Williams said this in the changing room: ‘Everyone expects you to lose’, and they did. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go ‘Feck it, we’ll give it a shot’.

“Just do our thing, back to basics, and next thing you see guys standing up in the stand and they couldn’t believe it. That’s where Leinster are at the moment unfortunately.

“A win can change everything. If they won this weekend – I know it’s highly unlikely and I know the odds are against them – but if they did they’re all heroes again.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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