'We need a win more than a performance against Toulon '- Rob Kearney
While their Champions Cup campaign is all but over, Rob Kearney has said it’s crucial for the morale of the fans, players and management that Leinster defy expectation by beating Toulon this weekend.
As he contemplated three successive European defeats for the first time in his career, the Ireland full-back offered no excuses for the manner in which Leinster capitulated in the second half away to the three-in-a-row champions at the Stade Felix Mayol last Sunday.
Just a point behind Toulon at the break, Leo Cullen’s side conspired to undo themselves through a raft of errors and, indeed, yellow cards. Following Cian Healy’s sin bin in the first half, Devon Toner and Tom Denton followed suit in the second.
A penalty count of 17 was simply unacceptable. The breakdown, too, proved far from stellar, with referee Nigel Owens evidently not in a forgiving mood. Now Leinster face the propsepct of failing to make the quarter final stage for the first time since 2012.
“There’s no point looking to the referee’s interpretations and how they differ,” said Kearney at Leinster HQ on Monday.
“Toulon are one of the best in the world at what they do. They can absorb 20 phases and then they’ll just back one of their good stealers go get over the ball. The breakdown still needs a huge amount of work from us- we need to be far better there.”
Yet, in the first half, there were signs of improvement from the tepid showings that saw the Blues downed by Wasps and Bath, which gave Kearney cause for a tempered optimism.
“I think in the first half it was better. There was definitely more intention to play. Going in at half-time 10-9 down, we were really encouraged by that.
“Going into the second half we thought we were right in it and to just keep doing what we were doing. We created a couple of opportunities we didn’t take. When you’re away from home against that sort of team you have to be unbelievably clinical.”
Following this latest loss and defeats to the French giants in the 2014 quarter final and last year’s semi, Kearney welcomed the opportunity to put a little sheen on Leinster’s record against the game’s must expensively assembled outfit. Though, at this stage, it’s of little consequence how they go about it.
“I think it’s more a win, we need to win. We’ve lost three on the bounce now in Europe and that’s something I’ve never done before. I think a win more so than the performance is something that the group needs. In some respects, we’re quite lucky to get another crack of the whip. We haven’t beaten three times on the trot now, and in five days time we go again. It’s another opportunity to stop that.
“Mathematically we’re not out just yet, probably as good as. We’re at home in the Aviva in front of 45,00 people and it’s really important we get a performance, get a win, score some tries and give people a reason to get excited about this Leinster team again.
“As I said, it’s more important we get a win than a performance for many, many different reasons.”
Kearney was astute enough to recognise that turning over Bernard Laporte’s side without hitting maximum expression is near impossible and, that he and his teammates do justice to the structures passed on to them from Cullen and co by adhering to them appropriately.
“A win this week would do great things for the club, for the team. The chances are that a win and a performance will go hand in hand.
“It’s unlikely you’re going to beat Toulon and play really poorly. I think it’s something that could catapult the rest of the season that’s probably going to be a huge focus on the league being, more than likely, out of Europe.
“We’re all in this together- it’s not them and us (coaches). As players, they’ve given us a good game plan. It’s working and over the weekend it was probably the right game plan, it just needed a better execution of it. The players probably owe the game plan and the coaches a performance.”