Rob Kearney: Leinster need to beat Toulon, they are beatable
Published 16/12/2015 | 02:30
Revenge, not redemption, will spur Leinster's bid to end the worst losing streak in their 139-game, 20-year European career against three-time champions Toulon in the Aviva Stadium this Saturday.
While the mathematicians within the camp, led presumably by Emmett Farrell, still appreciate a myriad of possibilities which may allow for Leinster to qualify for the knockouts, full-back Rob Kearney is keen to paint a broader picture, rather than burrow beneath statistical minutiae.
"This week is less about mathematics and qualification and more about a performance, trying to win," confirms the full-back of a team which, in Europe at least, seems to have forgotten how.
Leinster had won their three titles before Toulon began their irrepressible hat-trick run; only Toulouse blot the remarkable sequence that saw six of the last seven European titles end up in either the south of Dublin or the Cote d'Azur.
Added to that, the French have also won all three meetings against Leinster since superseding their rivals as European standard-bearers; all three were in France, though, so Leinster will vigorously seize upon their home advantage in an effort to scream a defiant statement.
With a 42,500 crowd expected to use, rather than lose, their tickets as they strive to rally their despondent troops, Leinster's bid to avoid another unwanted sequence - back-to-back European home defeats for the first time ever - will require little motivation.
A soggy Saturday evening trek to a half-empty Rodney Parade might have been a different scenario.
But, with the champions perhaps in dicey qualification territory - they have already lost heavily to Wasps - Leinster will strain at the leash to inflict just the third reverse (the previous two also being away) during Toulon's dominance of the European landscape.
"It is difficult," concedes Kearney. "They're three-times reigning European champions and the chances are we are out of Europe. But it's nice to get another crack at them and go again.
"First, to see if they are beatable. Especially when you were 10-9 at half-time, to be excited coming out for the second half but then not doing yourself justice. So it is nice, but also not so nice, to get another shot at them."
Toulon may be beatable but a team must stop beating themselves first to have a prayer against them. Leinster need to explode, not implode.
"We play the All Blacks all our life as Ireland and we still haven't beaten them either," muses the former Lions full-back, who expressed confidence in his ability to complete 80 minutes this week following hamstring issues.
"We do need to beat them, they are beatable. But they are hard to beat at the same time. I mean, you can go 15 or 20 phases against them and they will just back one of their poachers, just to get over a ball and steal.
"But there are opportunities against them and there will be more this weekend. We need to take them. There were pictures where we could have been a bit more expansive at times. We have to continue to try and play them outside the 15s, because that is where the space is.
"We need to maintain that courage and intent to play, which we did have at the start of the game. It's about trying to keep that for 80 minutes."
Saturday's fixture could yet define the increasing gap in standard between recent and current European exponents; it only threatened to close last weekend because Toulon dished up the worst home performance of their reign.
Leinster conveniently acquiesced in maintaining that gap with a misfiring display of their own, the messy details of which were once more regurgitated by players and coaches alike yesterday.
Which is why the focus will not be on the scoreboard this weekend as they somehow seek to demonstrate that the gap may not be as wide as their recent sloppy run suggests.
"When you're capable of a certain standard and you're not producing, it is frustrating," Kearney says.
"If you are a mediocre team, and you're playing mediocre, sometimes that can be a bit easier to take. But not when you're not fulfilling the talents you have. That is why it's all about performance this weekend."
It remains to be seen if Leinster can navigate a route back towards something like their former European selves, notwithstanding the constant alterations in playing and coaching staff.
Some things have remained constant - or at least should remain constant - and these are all consummate professionals with easily definable skill-sets that have shone in the past.
"Everyone has the skills," agrees Kearney, as he strives for the answer to the million-dollar question of how to relocate them.
"We've all proved through the years that we can pass the ball and do it well under pressure. I don't know how we unlock it. We are in a tough time. There is a little bit of adversity there in terms of the European performances.
"You need characters to stand up. There is a big onus on us as players for the weekend."