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Blues suffer for joy of Six

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Eoin Reddan. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Eoin Reddan. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Eoin Reddan. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

THE very jibe from Munster coach Rob Penney that Leinster are "the Six Nations champions" could have been the very reason the Blues were flatter than a pancake in the Heineken Cup quarter-final on Sunday.

First, there was no hard luck story in the south of France. Toulon were worth every one of the 15 points that separated the 2013 European champions from the 2012 European champions.

Leinster's bravery and defensive system just about held out against the French club in the first half as they had to withstand the human tide of runners coming straight, heavy and hard.

There was simply nothing left in the tank for the second period as – think back to Northampton Saints in the 2011 final – it had taken so much of their energy to hold back Toulon.

The simple fact is the bulk of the Leinster players had come through a Six Nations campaign of incredible intensity, from five internationals in seven weeks.

The emotional and physical investment there made ever-lasting memories, but left lasting physical scars that could not be wiped out. The Irish were on their last legs at Stade de France on March 15.

In the aftermath, it was revealed how many of them had to be nursed to the finish line with injuries that accrued over the length of the Championship.

Then, Munster came to Dublin town two weeks later for what was as intense an affair as any Leinster-Munster clash. It was said to have the two clubs spot-on for Europe.

It looked like it would take Brian O'Driscoll out of the Toulon equation with a neck/head injury. Cian Healy, Jack McGrath and Martin Moore were all unable to make the Munster match.

At this time, Toulon set about tearing Toulouse to pieces in the French Top 14. The whispers of Leinster's fitness were never likely to materialise against a long list of players, who have excelled at test level of years.

The comparison between the energy shown by Munster, admittedly at Thomond Park, against a giant Toulouse and the output from Leinster at Stade Felix Mayol was informative.

Munster got stronger as the game wore on. Toulouse did not have the heart or the heavyweight intention that they needed to overcome their indifferent form.

Leinster struggled right from the off in Toulon and wilted as the minutes passed by, perhaps in part, due to heat and, in large, due to the fabulous focus of Bernard Laporte's band of imports.

Laboured

Coach Matt O'Connor was disappointed with the inaccuracy of his players. They looked one-paced in the backline and laboured in their one-out rugby around the fringes.

When Leinster got hold of the ball, they couldn't keep it. They were not sharp. They were not spot-on. When they got hold of Toulon's big runners, they couldn't stop them quickly enough. Leinster looked jaded and were jilted long before the end.

These Toulon mercenaries play for more than money. They play to win. And they don't have to worry about devoting time to the 2014 Six Nations, or its champions.


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