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Leinster braced for 'assault on the senses' away to proud Toulouse

Leinster are brimming with respect for their fellow four-time champions.

WITH EIGHT EUROPEAN titles evenly divided between them, there is no doubt that Toulouse and Leinster have looked across at one another with admiring glances.

Yet while they are peers at the top of the Heineken Champions Cup honour roll, the overlapping time of their superpower eras was brief.

“I have nightmares of that game,” says John Fogarty of the 2010 semi-final, when the defending champions were knocked out in Toulouse as the hosts moved within a step of their fourth crown.

John Fogarty Fogarty in Toulouse during the 2010 Heineken Cup semi-final. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The French giants could not have imagined that the tallies would be level within a decade.

Les Rouge et Noires won back-to-back Bouclier de Brennus shields in the seasons that followed, but since 2013 they have not finished inside the top two of the Top14, nor reached the final through the Barrages.  In 2017 they endured a torrid season and finished third from bottom.

The gallant one-time kings of European rugby are not what they once were. Yet their fall from the upper rungs of rugby won’t diminish Leinster’s intent to make a statement. And to do that, they will begin by treating Sunday’s opposition as though they are vintage Toulouse.

“When you go over there, it is almost an attack on the senses,” says Fogarty as he looked ahead to a week preparing the eastern province.

“There’s an atmosphere. There’s a history. There’s so much about Toulouse that you have to respect. We understand that.

“Toulouse hasn’t changed. There is still an atmosphere. There’s still a group of players and group of coaches and a group of supporters that love the game. They play the game with huge passion. That hasn’t changed for me.”

The former hooker adds: “They are going to be confident. They’ve got world-class players and huge size in their pack.”

That size is eye-catching indeed. Though Toulouse have not reveled in modern rugby’s more recent developments, they have not been left wanting for sheer heft in their pack.

Joe Tekori and Luke Charteris Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Jerome Kaino is relatively lightweight by comparison in a pack containing the formidable Joe Tekori and Charlie Faumuina.

On paper, it stands to reason that Leinster will be more than capable to move those big men around until gaps reveal themselves. Fogarty is sceptical. Intensity and the unquantifiable intelligence that exists within the club and their collection of talent is not to be underestimated.

“When you watch them they’ve got lots of rugby intelligence,” says the Leinster scrum coach, his passion obvious and simmering in big gameweeks like this.

“You’re defending and they’re rumbling along at a pace that suits them then they can break out and just catch you. I wouldn’t get tricked by looking at anybody’s shape and saying: ‘we’re better conditioned, we take them through phases, we’re going to score, they can knock off’.
Their rugby intelligence, when they can attack a ruck or when it’s time to kick or time to play, they do that really well. The rugby intelligence is excellent. So you can get tricked a bit thinking ‘we have this’ and that and ‘we can run this team off the park’.

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“We’re not expecting to run this team off the park, we’re expecting a physical challenge.”

Before the physical comes the mental, of course. Few, if any, teams show an ability to adapt and thrive in pressure situations like Leinster have done over the past year.

“Our mindset is the first thing that needs to be checked,” and the coach’s checklist branches off from there:

  • “Are we patting ourselves on the back a little bit too much?
  • “Are we listening to all this chat about our game at the weekend?
  • “Or are we preparing for what’s going to be a very difficult game?
  • “Will we turn up (to training) on Wednesday and be a few percent off?
  • “Or, will we be on-point? And what is the knock-on effect then?

“Last week, we prepared quite well. Wasps’ preparation was probably a bit off… the squad was ready, the mindset was good.

“Now, (the task is) replicate that a little bit, understand Toulouse, understand the challenge, prepare and perform.”

So it’s a typical Leinster week. And that means preparations will begin with a focus on the few areas for improvement which proved so inconsequential when they were emphatically running up 50 points against Wasps.

Johnny Sexton 12/10/2018 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Our line-out didn’t function as well as it should, we were slowed down in the first-half, we turned over the ball on the ground. There are bits of our game that need to improve. You look at set-piece, your ability to recycle the ball, not overplay. When you’re overconfident you overplay in that middle part of the field or your own half and you get turned over.”

Bits and pieces to polish up, a checklist to ensure they are at their best. This is not Leinster revving themselves up for the biggest challenge in the game. Toulouse are a shadow of their former glory.

“For us, the challenge that Toulouse is, the challenge that this competition is, you have to be there every time.

“Mentally you have to prepare right, mentally you’ve gotta turn up on the day. For us, we’re pretty clear in our head that this competition is going to be very difficult to win.

“It starts this week again, almost, it’s going to be very difficult for us to compete and get a result.”

Doubly difficult for Toulouse. Because even the grand vintage in the days of Guy Noves would have had their work cut out against this version of Leinster.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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