To say that Leinster will define their season this Sunday is somewhat of an understatement. Pro 12 involvement on the line, consecutive defeats worse than anything in the last decade and a general air of division amongst their fans; this trip to Toulon didn’t need added importance but it has it now.
Matt O’Connor fielded 12 changes in the Pro 12 in an effort to distribute game time ahead of playing a team absolutely spoiled for choice. It wasn’t entirely illogical but what it means is that Leinster are essentially out of the league and this European Cup is all that remains to sign off in some style on a mixed 14/15 season. The obvious backlash here is that they’ve put more pressure on a game that really didn’t need anymore but for the sake of optimism let’s look at it from another angle – Leinster are head first throwing all of their weight into this weekend.
Much is made of Toulon’s stellar roster of Super 15 stars, Six Nations heroes and World Cup winners but Leinster will field a smattering of players who were actively involved in the Six Nations victory this year, as well as plenty of players who have tasted regular Heineken Cup and Pro 12 success in the last five or six years. Sure, the numbers in that latter category are a little low these days but still high enough. That Leinster, player to player, have the talent and mind set to do the job this weekend isn’t up for debate. What is is whether or not they will be put out on the field in a manner that they can do so.
Game plan, the words have been bandied about so much since the beginning of the Six nation they’ve lost all meaning. But O’Connor needs to have one the like of which we haven’t seen before. Toulon are swarmed with immense individual talent across the pitch but a lot of these Galacticos are in the tail end of their careers. The front five that started against Wasps had a combined age of 163. In a man on mam situation Leinster have players that should happily fancy their chances in the contest. The crunch area that the real battle will be won or lost is at the breakdown. Last year Leinster were, for want of a better word, out on their arse when trying to snag any ball for themselves out of the ruck and this in turn led to their defence finding itself in disarray when Toulon turned on the attack. If they can find the discipline in themselves to wait for their opportunities rather than go looking for them so much they will be in with a much better shot. Same goes for the attack, where Leinster need to get wide in a more meaningful way and the like of Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney need to trust themselves to be able to make the breaks. Crash balm to Madigan needs to be outlawed on Sunday too.
All of the above shows that Leinster stand a chance by all means, but the likely outcome is still a Toulon victory. We are in one of those rare situations where Leinster fans probably will be happier than usual to just see some spirit, some effort and a viable shot at the game whether the result swings in their favour or not. We can but dream.
Image courtesy of zimbio.com