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Blues ready for Toulon


Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

THREE-TIME champions Leinster will travel to current champions Toulon for the Heineken Cup quarter-final in the south of France on the first weekend of April.

"I've said it many times before, there are no easy games in the Heineken Cup and a trip to Toulon is further proof of that," said Leinster coach Matt O'Connor.

"They have a fantastic squad of players and their form in the Heineken has been excellent with only one loss in a group containing Cardiff, Exeter and Glasgow, meaning they have earned their home quarter-final.

"I know from the mentality of my players that they want to be tested against the best and, ultimately, if we are to progress in this competition, then we have to play and beat the best and I am confident that we have the capabilities to do that."

Leinster will have the motivation of a home semi-final against either Munster or Toulouse, the prospect of an all-Irish encounter bringing back memories of those thunderous last four tussles from 2006 and 2009.

"Look, of course the draw will get fans and media talking but we can't control that," added O'Connor.

"All that we can control is our own performance away to Toulon. If we get over that considerable hurdle we will have plenty of time to talk about a potential semi-final then and I am sure Rob (Penney) will say the same."

O'Connor's men could forever rue the sub-standard shift they put in at home to Northampton Saints, not even taking a consolation bonus point there, leaving them vulnerable to results elsewhere in the last two rounds.

The Irish province was actually seeded for an away day at Munster until Vincent Debaty battered his way to the line in the 67th minute for Clermont Auvergne's fourth try in their 28-3 win over Racing Metro at Stade Marcel Michelin yesterday.

Instead, they will have to confront the 'galacticos' of Toulon, probably in Nice, with the French giants having never lost at home in their short history in the Heineken.

Bernard Laporte's men secured three bonus-point victories on home soil over Exeter Chiefs, Cardiff Blues and Glasgow Warriors from their Pool exploits.

Leinster are no shrinking violets themselves and will go with the confidence they have taken from three away wins at the Ospreys, Northampton Saints and Castres.

More than that, the weather in that part of the world should be well suited to Leinster's quick tempo, where the emphasis will be as much on speed of movement as it will be on power.

There is always at least one surprise, or even shock, every weekend. It came at Zebre on Saturday where Toulouse could not do any better than scramble to a miserable four points with a 16-6 win, leaving the door swinging open for Munster.



If Rob Penney's men could conceive and convert four tries against Edinburgh they would have the golden ticket to a home quarter-final back in Limerick.

Tries from number eight James Coughlan and wing Johne Murphy in the first half were backed up by the next two by Conor Murray and Peter O'Mahony by the 57th minute, the fifth from Simon Zebo and sixth from Felix Jones merely acting as the cherries on top.

"We've got a massive hurdle to get over against Toulouse here (Thomond Park) first. We won't be looking too far beyond that," said Penney.

Even so, the New Zealander could not resist the temptation to take a peek at the possibility of a semi-final at either Nice or the Aviva Stadium, which in practice is closer to a neutral venue.

"Traditionally, Munster have never feared going away. This group have certainly got a little bit of that in them as well. There's nothing there that Munster should really fear."

For the record, the quarter-final line-up includes 13 titles shared between six former winners of the competition.