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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

High-intensity attack and Reddan's influence can sway Toulon tie in Leinster's favour

Grenoble skills coach and former Munster scrum-half Mike Prendergast talks us through winning at Stade Mayol.

Prendergast highlights the fine form of Eoin Reddan.
Prendergast highlights the fine form of Eoin Reddan.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

GIVEN THAT GRENOBLE have recorded two wins over Toulon in the Top 14 this season, Mike Prendergast is perhaps the ideal man to provide insight on Bernard Laporte’s side ahead of their Heineken Cup clash with Leinster on Sunday.

The former Munster scrum-half played his part in the 28-26 home victory back in August, as well as January’s stunning 22-21 away success over Toulon in his role as Grenoble’s skills coach.

Leinster face the toughest task of the three provinces in action as they travel to Stade Mayol for the closing game of the European clubs quarter-final weekend, with Grenoble being the only team to have won there this season so far.

The formula for success for the Isère-based club began with their mental preparation.

“We were very sharp on both occasions,” says Prendergast. “With their power game, it’s about winning the collisions. [Defence coach] Bernard [Jackman] had us well prepped defensively and we did good work on their attack.

We were mentally in the right place and the we frustrated them more than anything. They’re the type of team that if they get that quick ball, they’ll score tries. It’s about lots of different things, but really it’s about playing in their faces.

“Getting good line speed and being competitive at the breakdown, at the right times, are important. You’ve got to pick your rucks as well, especially against a team like Toulon. If you flood a midfield ruck for instance, and you’re down numbers outside, they’ll punish you.”

“You’ve got to be smart at the breakdown in knowing when to put in numbers, when to poach, and when to just fill in the defensive line.”

Mike Prendergast Prendergast is a former Munster scrum-half. Source: ©INPHO

In the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy and Jamie Heaslip, Leinster do possess players who are strong at the breakdown and, crucially, make good decisions as to when to go for steals.

There exists a perception in some parts that Toulon are purely about power and size, and while those elements are certainly a part of their attacking play, Prendergast points out that the French side also have the ability to change their style mid-match.

“They essentially can play two games. They have that power game, but they can play with width too. The man they play through, and who is one of the form players in France for me, is inside centre Matt Giteau.

He gives them that change that if they do need to play a wide game, they have that. You’re playing with himself and Jonny Wilkinson, so both first receiver and second receiver are ball players.

“It gives them a huge advantage when you add in the power that they have. They’ve very good heads-up rugby players, the likes of Giteau and Jonny.”

Only Ulster and Saracens have scored more points that Toulon in the Heineken Cup this season, while they are the third-highest scorers in the Top 14 too. Clearly, Leinster’s defence – which has impressed this season – will need to make intelligent decisions, be aggressive in its line speed and win the collisions as often as possible.

Not that Toulon’s strengths are limited to the times when they have the ball. Racing Métro are the only side to concede less in the Top 14 this season up to this point, while Toulon’s record of 18 tries conceded in 23 domestic games is easily the best in the league.

Matt Giteau Matt Giteau is a key man for Toulon. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Prendergast underlines that Toulon are “very structured” in defence, but he believes that Leinster’s ability to burst into attacking blitzes can cut open the French side at vital times.

“If Leinster can bring what they brought – obviously not for 80 minutes – in that patch they had against Munster last weekend [they'll score tries]. They’re a team who have points in the game when they look to inject that high-intensity and they did it for 20 minutes against Munster.

When they play like that, with that accuracy at the breakdown, they’re very hard to stop. I think Leinster held a bit back in attack against Munster, bar that 20-minute period when they scored.”

The performance in the 40-7 victory over Northampton in the pool stages of the tournament saw Leinster put together a 40-minute spell of what Prendergast is alluding to, a demonstration of their attacking prowess that will need to be repeated on Sunday.

If that happens, there will be one key man buzzing around the pitch, manipulating Toulon’s “ageing pack” and directing the Leinster attack.

“That high tempo suits Eoin Reddan, who really dominates in around the ruck with that quick ball. Reddan is playing really, really good rugby at the moment.

“He’s very smart and I think when they play with that intensity at certain times in the game, picking off scores, they’re a very hard team to play against. They have been getting these results away from home.”

Tomorrow on, Prendergast will look at the Munster v Toulouse clash.

Leinster’s best may not be good enough in Toulon, admits Eoin Reddan

Game management key if Leinster are to overthrow Toulon

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Murray Kinsella

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