Sunday 25 August 2019

Jamie Heaslip: We are playing the Real Madrid of rugby but we have our own Galacticos

Andrew Baldock

Jamie Heaslip has braced his Leinster team for a European Champions Cup semi-final showdown on Sunday against a team he describes as "the Real Madrid of rugby."

Reigning European champions Toulon stand between three-times title holders Leinster and a place in the Twickenham final on May 2.

But it promises to be a huge task for Ireland number eight Heaslip and company at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, with Toulon two wins away from achieving an unprecedented hat-trick of European crowns.

"There's a good feeling," Leinster skipper Heaslip said.

"There is an excited feeling about it, going over there against a team that is made up of superstars. It's like the Real Madrid of rugby.

"The challenge that poses for us is massive and we relish it. We know the work that has to go in in order for us to be in with a chance against these guys."

Leinster were beaten 29-14 by Toulon in last season's European quarter-finals and their illustrious opponents will start as firm favourites, led by world stars like Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana and Leigh Halfpenny.

Such is Toulon's enviable strength that 2014 European player of the year Steffon Armitage finds himself on the bench, providing cover for a starting back-row of Juan Smith, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Chris Masoe.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

For their part, Leinster are unchanged from the team that defeated quarter-final opponents Bath a fortnight ago when six Ian Madigan penalties secured a tense 18-15 Aviva Stadium triumph.

Read more: Tony Ward: Leinster must adopt the great Bill Shankly mantra to beat Toulon

Read more: Turfman from Ardee takes his oul' ass to Marseille for a song

Leinster hooker Sean Cronin added: "It's going to be a huge, incredibly tough test going down to the two-time champions.

"They are absolutely packed full of superstars and we know how tough it's going to be.

"We just have to focus on ourselves and try and implement the game-plan and have the desire and intensity with that to go to such a tough place like that and get a result.

"It's not often that we go into games as underdogs.

"They are an awesome side and they demand a lot of respect with performances they've brought to this competition in recent years.

"We know we are going to have to put in by far the best performance of this season - if not the past few seasons - to come anywhere close to getting a result."

For Wales full-back and goalkicker Halfpenny, meanwhile, Sunday's clash gives him the chance of reaching a European final after he joined Toulon last summer.

Halfpenny was part of the Cardiff Blues team beaten in a penalty shoot-out by Leicester at the semi-final stage six years ago and he said: "It was a great disappointment, but I have the opportunity to play another semi-final now.

"It will be a huge game against a team packed with quality. It will be complicated, and we need to be 100 per cent ready.

"This is one of the biggest matches of my career, and it's also a great match for Toulon.

"With the success the club has had over the past two years, we do not want to stop there."

Read more: Leinster's position in European elite on line in Marseille

Read more: A comic book tale bursting with heroes

PA Media

The Left Wing: The 'hell' of World Cup training camp, Ireland's half-back dilemma and All Blacks uncertainty

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport