Monday 11 December 2017

Toulouse fall into 'tender' trap

Cheika believes French giants will take Leinster as a soft touch

Leinster boss Michael Cheika. Photo: Getty Images
Leinster boss Michael Cheika. Photo: Getty Images
David Kelly

David Kelly

It says much for Leinster's focus this term that, in spite of one of the most sparkling weekends in the Heineken Cup's illustrious 15-year history, all blue eyes were diverting towards the visit of the Ospreys to the RDS this Friday.

Much of Leinster's success this season has been founded upon the twin challenges of an unprecedented Magners League-Heineken Cup double, something still very much on their radar.

Another by-product of an extended squad's devotion to remaining ultra-competitive week after week will be garnered when, as seems more than likely barring a miracle, Shaun Berne once more steps in to the pivotal position of out-half to replace the injured Jonathan Sexton.

And yet as much as the conversations tried to alight upon Friday's challenge, the still-fresh memories both of last Friday's heart-stopping win against Clermont and the awesome performance of Toulouse on Sunday could hardly be ignored.


And head coach Michael Cheika threw in a surprising curve ball when musing that perhaps the crack French Cup experts Toulouse will be happier facing the reigning champions rather than Munster, because they perceive Leinster to be more "tender".

"Everything varies from week to week," said Cheika as he contemplates a task the weather forecasters predict will take place in conditions as perfect as was yesterday's training session in Dublin's Clonskeagh.

"Before the game the commentators were saying Toulouse haven't been great this year and after the game they were saying, 'Oh my God, they are geniuses'.

"You know what their potential is because their playing roster hasn't changed a whole lot over the years, except that it has probably got a bit stronger and they have added some new blood.

"They have got amazing depth from the bench. Knowing the way of thinking down there a little bit, I don't think they mind too much that it is us. I think they would prefer it to be us than, say, Munster."

Really? Cheika explains.

"Maybe they think we are still a little bit tender. That might be the impression of Leinster in France and, also, everyone in France seems to think that we were a bit lucky to win the other day and don't see the work that went into the match either."

Nevertheless, Leinster's 2006 quarter-final success away to Toulouse in one of the competition's most epic encounters in Cheika's first season in charge would surely not brook such a dismissive argument from the three-time champions?

"We believe in ourselves," insisted Cheika, who admitted that perhaps he was guilty of over-analysing Clermont last week, which perhaps explained their meek and slightly frazzled opening quarter.

"There is no issue there for the whole season. We have got to manage our resources well and we have had a good season so far. We haven't had many losses.

"We are very proud of that record and we will get stuck in as long as it takes from Friday because we are going to have a congested fixture list too. There is the refixed match with Connacht to get in as well.

"With the injuries, we are going to have to manage our resources pretty much perfectly to get everyone in the best possible position for that match. The focus has got to be on ourselves.

"Maybe I was a bit guilty, maybe because we hadn't played Clermont before, of making the team too aware of the opposition's threats as opposed to worrying about Leinster, so that's a lesson learned for me.

"I'll just get the team sorted out in its own play. We have worked on a lot of basic play that we are going to stick to over the next while -- get everyone positive about our own attack and defence."

Sexton, Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney will all miss this week's game while Sean O'Brien is also deemed less likely than before to make it back in time for the semi-final clash on May 1.

That will put pressure on Leinster's squad, with a refixed Magners League game against Connacht to be thrown into the mix, but their form and results this season indicate that shouldn't be a problem.

"Obviously, we are lucky. We have got some good options to choose from. Shaun Berne has guided us through the Heineken Cup already this season -- nearly half the pool rounds already this season -- and he is a very experienced player.

"It's going to open the door for a few guys. Fergus McFadden will come into the reckoning for a position and he has got a couple of opportunities over the next few weeks now to put his best foot forward in them.

"But at the moment we're just thinking about this week's game and we have options," added Cheika. "We're not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We are pretty happy with where we are at the moment.

"We have got a big match on Friday because if we sort out our home games for the rest of the season we should finish in the top two. That's important.

"That's pretty much where our concentration is. They were pretty beat up, the team, they were pretty beat up after the weekend but they are ready to go now after a right good session."

Irish Independent

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