Toulon a massive test but we know we have it in us – Reddan
Published 02/04/2014 | 02:30
After 22 visits to France over the course of their Heineken Cup odyssey, you would imagine Leinster would be well used to the place at this stage.
On Sunday, the Stade Felix Mayol will become the 15th different French stadium the boys in blue have played in, with Toulon becoming their 12th Top 14 opponent.
It took six defeats before Reggie Corrigan's team finally celebrated their famous victory over Montferrand in 2002 and, while their overall record is a losing one, things have changed since those difficult days when they would return from Toulouse, Paris and Biarritz in a spin.
On their past five trips, Leinster have won three and drawn one. Their sole defeat came in Clermont.
You'd think that after all of that time and all of those experiences the intimidation factor might lessen and the stadiums would all meld into one.
Not so, says Eoin Reddan who has plenty of experience playing away with both Wasps and his current province and who has come out on the right side of plenty of results.
And the problem facing the three-time champions this weekend is that Toulon away is, the scrum-half believes, right at the top end of the difficulty scale for reasons that stem from the calibre of player on the pitch and the vociferous backing they get off it.
"I think Clermont and Toulon are probably the two toughest," the Limerick native said.
"Even the Bordeaux game (2012 Heineken Cup semi-final) away, we weren't in Clermont's home ground which we will be in toulon this week. They're definitely favourites for the Heineken Cup. They're current champions, they've got a home quarter and a home semi if they manage to beat us, so obviously we know what we're up against this week – it's going to be tough.
"We need to get our homework done early, so the intensity which we spoke about just comes out at the weekend and all of the detail is done."
Beating Munster last Saturday gave Leinster a lift and helped get them up to speed, but experience of big, knock-out Heineken weekends means Reddan and Co know things will jump up a notch.
"It's a different picture this week. Because it's a knock-out, the intensity will be sustained right until the end," he said.
"It will only get higher and higher as the whistle approaches. Yeah, it was great (to beat Munster), but everybody watching and playing knows there is a bit more in store this week. It's not something you need to concentrate on, your intensity for those games is always there. It will be there, it's not something you need to worry about."
That intensity will be crucial, as will the full recovery of a number of key men over the course of the week. Chief among them is Cian Healy, who is possibly Leinster's most important player on weeks like these. The loosehead is admired greatly by the Toulon hierarchy and with good reason. His work in the scrum will be integral to the cause, while his ability to take on ball regularly and get the home defence going backwards will be key.
When Reddan is at the base of a ruck looking for options, the Clontarf native is one of the top faces he is looking for.
"Every time you look up there are a few guys you're ticking off, you're thinking that, if you give him the ball, he'll definitely (get over the gain-line)," he explained.
"Now there are a few more than Cian and teams can't just focus on one guy, but, absolutely, every time you look up you're trying to find one of a few names who will make the next ball a bit quicker and lighten the tempo of the game."
While Brian O'Driscoll took the plaudits in Paris and Andrew Trimble and Chris Henry were rightly lauded for their contributions to Ireland's effort in beating France to claim the Six Nations title, Healy's effort was huge with ball in hand.
The problem for Leinster is that Les Bleus' destroyer-in-chief, Mathieu Bastareaud, will be wearing the red and black of Toulon and this time around he has a little bit more of a supporting cast to help out.
"Bastareaud is obviously playing very well, he's a handful," Reddan admitted after getting to see the huge centre at close quarters at the Stade de France.
"They've got Matt Giteau as an option outside him and we all know how good they all are, it's hard to pinpoint one of them without taking your eye off another, which we don't want to do this week."
Skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy was part of the Irish effort to tame the huge centre and his French colleagues three weeks ago, but it is not, he believes, much of a reference point.
"It is a different challenge because they have so many players playing for them from all over the world," he said.
"It is a French team, but it has got so many outside influences. The quality that they have is second to none in squads around the world – or around Europe anyway. We know that we are going to have to be very good down there to win, but we know that we have that in us."
There will be little room for distraction once they hit the south of France and try to get comfortable in new surroundings that will feel oddly familiar all the same.
Leinster's record in France
Record since 1997:
P22, W8, D1, L13, F445, A579. Wins: 36%
Last five visits:
P5, W3, D1, L1, F112, A79. Wins: 60%
v Racing Metro, Stade Yves da Manoir, Jan 21, 2011. Won 36-11
v Montpellier, Stade de la Mosson, November 11, 2011. Drew 16-16
v Clermont Auvergne, Bordeaux, April 29, 2012. Won 19-15
v Clermont Auvergne, Parc Michelin, December 9, 2012. Lost 15-12
v Castres Olympique, Stade Pierre Antoine, January 12, 2014. Won 29-22