Friday 18 January 2019

Leinster can beat Toulouse without Sexton - Jennings

Shane Jennings
Shane Jennings
David Kelly

David Kelly

Shane Jennings is convinced that Leinster can ramp up their Champions Cup title defence by securing a revenge win against Toulouse this weekend - even without talismanic captain and out-half Johnny Sexton.

The World Player of the Year is still rated as a doubt for the return tie against the French aristocrats in the battle to see who will secure a more comfortable route to the final but the three-time European champion openside believes that his former side can cope without Sexton.

"They can win it without Johnny Sexton," says Jennings (right), part of Virgin Media Ireland's Six Nations TV coverage this spring. "It's a massive challenge. But I genuinely think you cannot afford to rely on one individual. Johnny is so important for Leinster, as he is for Ireland. But that's why you have to have the likes of Ross Byrne and others chomping at the bit and being ratty at the coaches. The other guys should always be pushing the older guys.

"And the results show this season that the standard rarely drops when they rotate their squad. Nobody is Johnny but Ross is Ross and that can be good enough for Leinster.

"The depth is really impressive this season and the coaching and management of all those players in terms of execution and strategy and skill doesn't seem to affect them.

"Sure, there was a blip in Munster but I'm expecting a win against Toulouse. Because Leinster understand what will open up in terms of the route to the final. You will see the mettle of the team this week.

Lessons "Nobody thought they would be touched at the start of the season but there are always ups and downs. Internally, they won't mind being taught a few lessons whether in Toulouse or Munster. And that will make them even more determined to win this weekend and I believe they will win."

Leinster might well be weakened this weekend - skyscraping second-row Devin Toner is also rated as a doubt for the fixture - but back-row Jack Conan believes that, if anything, the Toulouse side will be an even tougher task this time.

For one thing, legendary All Black Jerome Kaino, who can trace his career all the way back to the 2005 Lions tour to New Zealand, will return in the back-row for what promises to be an enthralling contest for possession in that area.

"He's an incredible athlete," says Conan. "I mean, he's 35 now at this stage and it's great for him to be still competing at the top level of rugby at that age. I'm 26 and Jesus if I got to that age it would be a miracle. So it's going to be a massive test and I'm looking forward to going up against him.

"He has shown quality over so many years, whether it is at six or eight. He's a physical presence across the park, either on the ball or defensively. It just adds to their strength in the back-row.

"They are a better team now since we played them last time. They have threats all across the park. They have some fantastic ball-players, some electric talent especially in the midfield and the back field.

"It really is our biggest test in Europe to date and that goes even for last year as well. It's great we have them at home Big players rise to these big occasions.

"There's a tension around the place and an excitement about how much hard work is going to be required to get the win on Saturday. So we'll be building for it all week."

Toulouse's European revival was arguably kick-started by Leinster's inability to finish them off in the south of France last year - not to mention their inability to start from the off - and the passionate reaction of their fans declared their intent.

South Dublin may not necessarily resound to a similar beat but Conan is convinced that the RDS can issue its own battle cry despite the untimely lunchtime kick-off.

"We've a pretty decent record at home," declares Conan. "The people are coming to support us week in, week out.

"They make themselves heard. It's different in a sense to what it is like in the south of France.

"But we appreciate everyone who comes to the RDS and makes themselves heard. It definitely adds to the atmosphere, it means so much to the team.

"It's part of our culture, our history and something that is always going to be with us and continue to grow as the team grows. We'll need them.

"We'll be playing high tempo and making smart decisions, whether to throw the offload or kick and put them back under pressure.

"It's going to be a big challenge but we need to find the balance between looking after the ball and making sure we're playing enough to put them under pressure."

Irish Independent

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