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'You couldn't have scripted it better' - Leinster ready for Toulon test

Head coach Matt O’Connor is backing his blokes to get the job done in Marseille.

IT’S ALL SET up for a Toulon win, and a convincing one at that.

The reigning back-to-back champions, comfortable 29-14 victors in the sides’ quarter-final meeting last year and current leaders of the Top 14 against Matt O’Connor’s so-far unimpressive Leinster.

Jamie Heaslip Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Devin Toner provide international class. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Toulon are the bookmakers’ firm favourites, 11-point favourites in many places. They don’t get these things wrong too often.

Surely some semblance of form would be encouraging for Leinster, surely they would be more comfortable coming into this European meeting with the confidence of a winning streak behind them?

But head coach O’Connor is happy with Leinster’s underdog position ahead of the 15.15 kick-off [Irish time]. All the pressure is on Toulon as they seek out three in a row, while few expect Leinster to pull it off.

I think given last year’s quarter-final and the dynamic of them chasing a third title, all the the things in and around the game tomorrow, you couldn’t have scripted it better from our perspective,” said O’Connor after Leinster’s captain’s run in Marseille yesterday.

“If we were coming down here with a bit of form, a bit of confidence, all those things, I don’t know if the fight would be enough. It’s going to take an enormous effort from us and I’d back our blokes to deliver it.”

Of course, the likes of Matt Giteau, Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams, Leigh Halfpenny and Chris Masoe have a track record of dealing with pressure comfortably, channeling it into impressive performances.

The have pedigree in fixtures of this nature and the Stade Vélodrome will hold no fears for them.

Toulon’s Frederic Michalak Michalak directs Toulon from the out-half position. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Whatever about their form, Leinster too have a handful of big-game behemoths, men like Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip. Devin Toner is a second row of proven international class, while Mike Ross and Cian Healy know their way around the Test arena.

This is cup rugby and Leinster have a pack full of players who will be equally undaunted by the scale of the day.

“Most definitely, we’ve got a lot of guys in our environment who are Test players and who have played on the biggest stages there are,” said O’Connor.

We understand that and what we can compete on, deliver on the things we can deliver on. If we can do that, stay in the game early on and weather the storm they will deliver in the first half an hour, we’ll be in good shape.”

O’Connor is more aware than anyone that Leinster’s performances this season have not been up to the standard the province expects of itself, but today represents another chance to turn the situation around.

The Australian coach has been focusing his players’ minds on their better European displays and asking them to build from there.

“We looked at the Wasps first half and the Bath first half and they were as good as we’ve been all year, those two first halves.

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Matt O'Connor Could this be the best day yet in O'Connor's tenure? Source: Craig Thomas/INPHO

“If we can replicate that early in the game and then build on it, make sure we continue to keep doing the things we talk about, the process should look after itself.

“We’ve had errors and we’ve let opposition back into the game, but you won’t be able to do that against Toulon.”

That much is certainly true. It’s going to take something we haven’t yet seen from this Leinster team to slay the Toulon beast in Marseille, but the elements are there. O’Connor just has to hope that everything falls into the right place.

Toulon

15. Leigh Halfpenny
14. Delon Armitage
13. Mathieu Bastareaud
12. Matt Giteau
11. Bryan Habana
10. Frederic Michalak
9. Sébastien Tillous-Borde

1. Xavier Chiocci
2. Guilhem Guirado
3. Carl Hayman (captain)
4. Bakkies Botha
5. Ali Williams
6. Juan Smith
7. Juan Fernandez Lobbe
8. Chris Masoe

Replacements:

16. Jean-Charles Orioli
17. Alexandre Menini
18. Levan Chilachava
19. Steffon Armitage
20. Drew Mitchell
21. Rudi Wulf
22. Michael Claassens
23. Jocelino Suta

Leinster

15. Rob Kearney
14. Fergus McFadden
13. Ben Te’o
12. Ian Madigan
11. Luke Fitzgerald
10. Jimmy Gopperth
9. Isaac Boss

1. Cian Healy
2. Sean Cronin
3. Mike Ross
4. Devin Toner
5. Mike McCarthy
6. Jordi Murphy
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Jamie Heaslip (captain)

Replacements:

16. Richardt Strauss
17. Jack McGrath
18. Marty Moore
19. Ben Marshall
20. Dominic Ryan
21. Eoin Reddan
22. Gordon D’Arcy
23. Zane Kirchner

Referee: Wayne Barnes [England].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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