| 3.3°C Dublin

Lancaster straining to grab the winning post

Leinster senior coach calls on Blues to channel frustration from Toulouse defeat into passion play at the RDS

Close

Stuart Lancaster says Leinster players need to be ‘controlled and composed’ to cope with the Toulouse challenge. Photo: Sportsfile

Stuart Lancaster says Leinster players need to be ‘controlled and composed’ to cope with the Toulouse challenge. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Stuart Lancaster says Leinster players need to be ‘controlled and composed’ to cope with the Toulouse challenge. Photo: Sportsfile

Without doubt, it is the match of the weekend.

While it is likely that Leinster and Toulouse will still both qualify for the knock-outs barring a spectacular final-day collapse, the desire to seek the most favourable qualifying route means that their RDS lunchtime date (1.0) is freighted with significant meaning, whatever the outcome.

Lose, and a potentially perilous path on foreign fields awaits; win, and home comforts can assuredly smooth the passage towards a pivotal final date in Newcastle.

PT Barnum is hardly required to sell it and he wouldn't have to if he tried; the RDS capacity of 18,300 seats have been snapped up and 293 extra positions have also been sold.

These have a restricted view but no matter; each and every one of the lucky punters will be on the edge of their seats, straining for a better look at the epic action.

As far as Stuart Lancaster, a former World Cup coach and a victor against the All Blacks is concerned, this ranks among his most formidable challenges.

"It should be a fantastic game," he enthuses. "Two champions who have won the competition four times each and both at the top of their respective domestic competitions. They've not lost since they played us so it is a big game.

"And playing at home in the RDS, in front of a full house, it certainly the premier game in Europe this week given the quality of the two teams involved.

"They are as good a team, in terms of preparation, that I have coached against." Some boast, that.

Toulouse, having won the reverse tie in a heaving French cauldron, know they can progress to the knock-out stages by winning and depriving their hosts of a losing bonus point; this is perhaps the most unlikely scenario but few would wager a mortgage either way.

From off-load king Joe Tekori to tournament top point-scorer Thomas Ramos, scheming scrum-half Antoine Dupont to pocket-rocket Cheslin Kolbe on the flank, the revived French giants scream menace all over the park.

For Leinster, the ambition is two-fold; mount the defensive barricades without forgetting to unleash some bullets of their own.

"You can't limit yourself to not passing the ball," Lancaster stresses.

"You have to give the guys a licence to play. But it's about playing in the right areas at the right time.

"We'll have a plan, so will they. They prepped really well for us over there and the intercept try was an example.

"We have a high regard for their players and their coaching team because of they way they prepared for us. They're unbeaten since we lost to them too but they are able to change their team like we have.

"And any team that has beaten Toulon 39-0 and drawn from behind with a changed team against Clermont deserves respect."

Of course, the unthinkable prospect for the champions is that defeat on Saturday would severely injure their title defence; they will be, literally, sent to Coventry, requiring a handsome win at Wasps to off-set looming challenges in other pools.

"I'm not even thinking about that," concedes Lancaster. "But if you look at the track record of previous campaigns then you can start when we came top last year with six wins out of six.

"The team that came second out of eight won four and lost two and Saracens, who qualified in eighth position, won three, drew one and lost two. So Saracens qualified last year with 18 points. We're on 15 now and Toulouse are on 17 but that is a dangerous mindset to think that it's OK if you lose.

"It isn't because if you win you have control. But it is still not the end point because you've still got to go to Wasps and win away from home."

Control is the key and that is what Leinster lacked in the away tie, ceding ground in the opening quarter which, although retrieved by the final quarter, was once more frittered away.

"Definitely. You knew at the time. To get yourself back in front and then to lose 28-27? There is a huge frustration really but we channel that.

"Because while we got back in front there were parts of the second half where with the atmosphere and the sense of occasion we made some errors in the second half when we were playing well.

"We missed a lineout, we kicked loosely to them and they counter-attacked and pinned us into the corner.

"Of all the tries they have scored, over half of them are off counter-attack, which is incredible really. Toulouse would have to be in the top five in Europe at the moment, in terms of their running and ability to break and play unstructured rugby.

"We pride ourselves in our ability to play unstructured rugby but they are at a different level. They are outstanding.

"So we need to be controlled and composed but also not be afraid to fire some shots of our own as well." Toulouse will be armed.

"We go without pressure," says Maxime Medard.

"We won our first four European Cup matches, many players will discover the Irish atmosphere. It's always hot there, facing formidable opponents. We will try to do something, to have fun."

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

Listen and subscribe to The Left Wing on iTunes and Soundcloud

Irish Independent