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'Leinster preparing for as big a battle as we've ever had'

The Australian says the champions are capable of stepping their game up by 40% for the arrival of Leinster.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LEINSTER COACH MATT O’Connor says he and his squad will learn from some mistakes of last year’s Heineken Cup quarter-final before meeting Toulon again in the Champions Cup semi-final on Sunday.

The Australian has been knocked out of rugby’s European Cup by the eventual champions in both of the last two seasons, suffering defeat in Toulon with both Leicester and Leinster.

Though this year he will take on the sport’s big spenders in Marseille rather than their home turf, he expects nothing short of all cylinders no matter what deficiencies they may have shown in recent wins.

“One of the big mistakes we made last year was looking at their form,” O’Connor said in Leinster’s UCD base yesterday.

“We had a lot of guys coming off the back of a Six Nations, who had just beaten France. So we were probably a bit confident that we could go down there off the back of that victory and, looking at Toulon’s form, we were in a pretty good frame of mind for what we needed to deliver.
The reality of it is that Toulon were probably 30-40% better on that day than they were at any other time that year. So it’s irrelevant.

“We know the class they have on that roster, we know they have world class players in every position. So we’re preparing for a battle that is going to be as big a game as Leinster have ever had. And we’ll see where we end up at the end of it.”

The message from the coach and captain Jamie Heaslip was clear, searching for a weakness in the Toulonnais armour is secondary to ensuring that Leinster hit all of their own marks and attempt to inflict their own game on the reigning champs.

Brian O'Driscoll gets upended by Delon Armitage In his final European fixture, Brian O'Driscoll was embroiled in battle with Delon Armitage. Source: INPHO/Billy Stickland

In any case, Heaslip and his team-mates have certainly felt the big-game impacts start to come in during this week’s training as players set out to make a mark on Europe’s standard-bearers.

“There’s a bit of bite in training which we all like. It lets lads know that everyone’s thinking of the game, thinking about getting the best out of each other and the best out of training.

“There’s an exciting feel about it. Going over against a team of superstars; they’re like the Real Madrid of rugby or something like that. The challenge that poses, we relish it and all the work that has to go in in order for us to be in with a chance.”

Heaslip, who ordinarily insists on looking forward rather than back, also cast an eye to the most recent fixture between the sides, but only to highlight the dangers that Heaslip’s defence must be aware of.

“They’re a big side and they play to their strengths; using big runners to get momentum in to the game and then they have a lot of good players who can read a game very well, see where the opportunities are and they have selfless players who put other players in to space.

Drew Mitchell and Jamie Heaslip Heaslip competes for possession with Drew Mitchell in last year's quarter-final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“That poses a lot of threat to us. Their set-piece obviously launches a lot of attacks off that we’re going to have to negate as a pack.

“Last year we let them get a lot of momentum off runners around the ruck from scrum-half by not coming off the line and not getting our tackles in, once or twice they made a couple of line breaks which stresses the defensive system.

They’re a side that are quite patient, but then once you make a mistake they pour through and latch on and usually get five if not three or seven points.We know we have to be very disciplined and match that momentum-building chances that they’re looking for from big runners and try to turn it round and put pressure on them with our game.”

Come 16.15 on Sunday in Marseille, Leinster players will finally get a chance to exorcise a game that has haunted them for the past 12 months.

Originally published at 07.00

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Sean Farrell

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