Monday 18 December 2017

Leinster-Toulon combined XV: No place for Sean O'Brien, Ian Madigan or Juan Smith

Mathieu Bastareaud of Toulon charges upfield during the Heineken Cup quarter final last year
Mathieu Bastareaud of Toulon charges upfield during the Heineken Cup quarter final last year
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

This is a XV that you would bring to the World Cup later this year without an ounce of fear. It's strength is best illustrated by the names omitted.

Irish internationals Sean O'Brien, Devin Toner and Ian Madigan miss out, while Toulon stars Juan Smith, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, Chris Masoe and Leigh Halfpenny fail to make the grade.

15. Rob Kearney (Leinster)

At international level it's an even split but Leigh Halfpenny has never recreated his Welsh form on French soil. Kearney has grown into a big leader in the Leinster back division.

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Rob Kearney, Leinster, is tackled by Horacio Agulla, left, and Anthony Watson, Bath

14. Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster)

Since his return to the Blue jersey and in his appearance against Scotland, Fitzgerald has showed that he is not a million miles away from finding his best form. Lightning feet and a brilliant step off both feet.

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Luke Fitzgerald
 

13. Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon)

A wrecking ball in attack and Leinster will not have forgotten the damage he inflicted at the breakdown in their Heineken Cup semi-final last season.

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RC Toulon's French centre Mathieu Bastareaud celebrates after the European Rugby Champions Cup 1/4 final match between RC Toulon and London Wasps

12. Matt Giteau (Toulon)

The Top 14 player of the year last year has continued his form into this season. Didn't start against Wasps but Maxime Mermoz's injury means he's a guarantee at inside centre.

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Toulon's Matt Giteau added the all-important kick nine minutes from time to help his side beat Bordeaux-Begles last weekend. Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images

11. Drew Mitchell (Toulon)

Jimmy Gopperth won't want to kick to kick to Toulon's back three and Mitchell in particular. Another foreigner who has flourished at the Stade Felix Mayol.

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Toulon winger Drew Mitchell paces through to score a try during his side's Top 14 clash with Lyon at the Stade Mayol. Photo: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images
 

10. Frédéric Michalak (Toulon)

The enigmatic Frenchman is capable of the sublime and the ludicrous. Hopefully he has one of his off days or Matt O'Connor's men could suffer a long afternoon.

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NICE, FRANCE - MAY 03: Frederic Michalak of toulon is tackled by Sylvain Nicolas during the Top 14 match between Toulon and Stade Francais at the Allianz Riviera Stadium on May 3, 2014 in Nice, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
 

9. Sébastien Tillous-Borde (Toulon)

Started for Les Bleus in Twickenham and helped orchestrate a brilliant offensive effort. Dangerous around the fringes.

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8. Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)

Leinster's Mr. Dependable, Heaslip has a huge task ahead of him in helping eclipse the enormous Toulon pack. One of the best footballing brains in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Jamie Heaslip in relaxed mood during Leinster's training session yesterday

7. Steffon Armitage (Toulon)

Bullied Leinster last year in the last eight, stymied the province with turnover after turnover. The most destructive openside in European club rugby.

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The ball-carrying ability of Steffon Armitage is likely to be crucial for Toulon
 

6. Mamuka Gorgodze (Toulon)

The Georgian is quite simply an animal. His giant frame fails to encapsualte the strength this man from Eastern Europe possesses. Leinster will need to chop him low, early and often.

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5. Ali Williams (Toulon)

The World Cup-winning All Black has a found a new lease of life in the sunny south of France. Flirts with conceding penalties but rarely does. Bundles of experience.

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Ali Williams moves to London with his family this summer and a freshly minted Champions Cup medal would fit snugly on the sideboard
 

4. Bakkies Botha (Toulon)

He's retired from international rugby to focus solely on his responsibilities with Toulon. Another World Cup winner and you can't buy that experience... oh wait.

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Bakkies Botha of Toulon
 

3. Carl Hayman (Toulon)

His battle with Healy will be pivotal. One of the best scrummagers in the game but didn't enjoy his meeting with the Irish prop 12 months ago.

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Carl Hayman, Toulon
 

2. Sean Cronin (Leinster)

Cronin's speed and mobility could prove crucial against an ageing pack and he'll be needed as a ball carrier to take the pressure of Healy and O'Brien.

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Leinster's Sean Cronin
 

1. Cian Healy (Leinster)

Healy posed problems in the scrum last season against Toulon and is nearing 100pc readiness. Expect fireworks when he gets the ball in his hands.

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4 April 2015; Leinster's Cian Healy after the game. European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final, Leinster v Bath. Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin. Picture credit: Pat Murphy / SPORTSFILE

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