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O'Connor giving nothing away as Toulon tussle looms large

The Leinster head coach has recent experience of taking on the European champions.

HE’S BEEN DOWN this road before, has Matt O’Connor.

While his Leinster players have been offering up comparisons from similar experience, the coach is the only one within the group who can claim to have taken on the real thing: Toulon, European champions.

With the Australian as backs coach last season, Leicester Tigers put in an enormous effort within the belly of the beast, Stade Mayol, but still left France crying foul over George Clancy’s refereeing.

O’Connor yesterday found himself bemoaning and questioning those two yellow cards for knock-ons again. 20 minutes with 14 men was too steep of an incline to overcome and Jonny Wilkinson’s six penalties and drop-goal helped the eventual champions on their merry way to Dublin (via London).

France European Rugby Cup Source: AP/Press Association Images

Leicester, however, are not Leinster as O’Connor no doubt is all too aware of.The Amlin Cup was a mere consolation prize for the eastern province last season. They have come to judge themselves by Heineken Cup medals and, on Sunday, they are at risk of having only one prize to aim for for the first time since coming up short against Toulouse in the 2010 semi-final.

Little wonder, then, that O’Connor was keeping his cards within a hair of his chest. No injury news is good news: everybody has trained and the 23-man squad he names today (save perhaps for some notable transfer targets) will sample the environs of the imposing stadium for the first time tomorrow.

The closest O’Connor came to valuable insight on this occasion, was in naming Bernard Laporte’s number nine and 10 after the suggestion that their strength in depth left a little room to manoeuvre.

“[Sebastien] Tillous-Borde will play half back for them… and [Jonny] Wilkinson.

“Hopefully they pick their other options, because they’re their best two blokes.”

The makeup of Toulon’s squad though means that knowing the oncoming threat is an utterly different thing to knowing how to stop it.

“They’ve got pretty good clarity on what they do. They don’t move to far away from that. The challenge with them is that they have world-class players across the field. The individual skill-set of the individuals in certain positions, we have to be very good in managing the opportunities that they get because they have really good guys from one to 23.”

Matt O'Connor 3/4/2014 Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The Australian coach’s choice of half backs are less clear cut. But after yet again pointing to game management as an area for improvement after last Saturday’s win over Munster it seems that O’Connor will entrust Jimmy Gopperth with the number 10 shirt in the biggest game of his new job.

“The focus that [Munster] created for us, the lessons we learned out of that, especially the first half performance were invaluable moving into Sunday.”

And so, while Jamie Heaslip sat alongside the coach listing the proven credentials he and the squad had for the task ahead  -with hard-fought wins in Toulouse, Bordeaux and London – O’Connor remained relatively quiet, a man burned already in the Toulon sun.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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