Thursday 20 June 2019

Jim Glennon: Time for Leinster to end talk of this so-called World Cup hangover

'A losing bonus point would be an excellent result, but that slight sense of fear lingers, ominously'
'A losing bonus point would be an excellent result, but that slight sense of fear lingers, ominously'

Jim Glennon

Leinster enter today's game at the Stade Felix Mayol, the last and the most severe challenge faced by the Irish provinces over the weekend, with the odds stacked massively against them. The bookies have Toulon as 15-point favourites and many expect an even wider margin.

It's time to end talk of the World Cup hangover. We're now eight weeks on from Argentina and right in the thick of the club season.

Unfortunately for Leinster, whatever the pressure under which their new coaching team may be labouring, their hosts are feeling a degree of pressure too. Having been trounced in round two by Wasps, and despite a successful backlash in Clermont two weeks ago followed up by another win over Agen, the pressure to recoup some pride and reinforce their status as the major force in European club rugby will be keenly felt.

While that hammering in Coventry showed to some extent just how good Wasps are and that their win over Leinster in the RDS was no fluke, it was still a poor Toulon performance, making a severe reaction from them today an inevitability.

The expansion of their galaxy of stars has continued. Today's teamsheet, with numbers 10 to 15 filled by Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Ma'a Nonu, Mathieu Bastareaud, Bryan Habana and Delon Armitage, is a sight to behold, an intimidating prospect.

With the likes of Duane Vermeulen and Samu Manoa up front, and players of the ilk of Maxime Mermoz, former Crusader Tom Taylor and Joce Suta watching from the bench, it's difficult to find grounds for optimism for Leinster.

To have any chance, a lot needs to go their way, but even allowing for the level of pace and skill at Toulon's disposal, the champions are by no means renowned for their subtlety and finesse.

Eminently capable of spectacularly eye-catching tries maybe, but sheer, and sometimes brutal, physical dominance is the foundation upon which their game is built.

In that regard, Leinster's scrum will come in for attention. After a bad day against Bath, Toulon will see it as a weakness to exploit in pursuit of penalty opportunities and territorial gain. An indication of Leinster's difficulties in this area can be seen in the fact that it's still hard at this stage of the season to name their best front three. The experience of Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross gets the nod - it's a big game for all three. It's a big day also for the deserving and emerging Josh Van Der Flier at openside flanker, but without the pressure.

Toulon's maul is a particularly potent weapon and they usually look to build some momentum and tempo off it. It's crucial that there and at the breakdown, Leinster's big men don't just stand firm but step up to meet the physical challenge toe-to-toe.

Behind the scrum, their defensive solidity, in the face of the most powerful of centre partnerships in Nonu and Bastareaud, will be vital. Ben Te'o has grown well into the team this season and, despite a tendency to shoot out of the line, his physicality has been a major asset. It will be tested today like never before.

It's said that to beat New Zealand a team has to score at least three tries, because they'll always get a couple themselves, and away to this Toulon team is something similar. Undoubtedly, Toulon will have their moments, but if Leinster can retain possession and achieve a degree of cohesion, they do have the potential to trouble them. If they can stay in the game for an hour, it will be all to play for - they still possess a cohesion and an identity that Toulon simply can't match.

To leverage that cohesion, the game must be tight at the crucial 60/65-minute point, and an element of doubt must be planted in Toulon minds. Is that possible? It's unlikely given recent form. But the players do have the capability - just think of last season's semi-final in France, when Leinster, against all the odds, brought Toulon to extra-time and went agonisingly close to finishing them off altogether.

The odds are stacked even higher this time. A losing bonus point would be an excellent result, but that slight sense of fear lingers, ominously.

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