Monday 20 May 2019

Ulster will be desperate for revenge after their defeat at the Aviva

More Toner: Devin Toner, in action against Toulouse’s Thomas Ramos. Photo: Sportsfile
More Toner: Devin Toner, in action against Toulouse’s Thomas Ramos. Photo: Sportsfile

Fergus McFadden

We're coming in to May and it's officially the business end of the season.

The knockout stages of the Champions Cup started for us in March against, ironically, this weekend's opponents up in Belfast.

After winning the quarter and semi-final we are now in a great position to try and go and get the silverware we set out for again last September.

There are never any guarantees of any result in any sport so to be competing at the latter part of the season is something for us all to enjoy.

This is the last few weeks for this group together and it is important that we understand that and all that this brings.

Taking to the pitch for one last time with lads you have played with since you were in your teens... that's a lot of history.

Last week felt like a very long one with the eight-day turnaround from the Glasgow Warriors game leading into a Sunday game in the Aviva.

Leaving

The week was structured differently for us with Monday and Thursday off, leaving us with four days of training and preparation leading into Toulouse.

I think the way the fixture fell for us, with the extra day of recovery, you could see a lot of guys benefited who had played the week before.

The likes of Rob Kearney, Devin Toner and Robbie Henshaw doubled up from the game against Glasgow and I thought they looked very fresh.

The team's performance on a glorious sunny day in the Aviva was one of the best of the season.

I was disappointed not to be involved in the 23 on the day but very proud of how well the team played.

I thought our defence was particularly outstanding against a team that had so many threats.

Toulouse had rightly been flagged from way off as one of the big threats for the Champions Cup.

They may have stumbled past Bath in Round 1 but ever since then - including that win over us in Round 2 - they had been very impressive in Europe.

None more so than their quarter-final win away from home against Racing.

That form wasn't just confined to Europe. In the Top 14 they had been going very well and bar a loss against Toulon a few weeks ago, had really been playing some brilliant stuff.

We had our work cut out all week prepping for them and making sure that we handled their threats.

Again, when you see that work in the meeting rooms and the analysis playing out on match day it gives everyone such confidence in the game plan.

When you see the defensive plan come right, there is huge satisfaction and even more so when you keep a team like Toulouse to no tries.

We had our moments but it's also important how you deal with their purple patch. I thought we stood up brilliantly to that challenge.

With all that said, the changing room was certainly a happy one afterwards and the difference between the atmosphere from the win against Ulster in the quarter-final was chalk and cheese.

Against Ulster it was also a win but we all knew that we hadn't quite performed.

Some of that was due to how well Ulster played but plenty also to do with things we didn't execute like we would like. So that's the difference. Two wins but worlds apart.

When you are involved in a match-day squad for a game like that and you go out and deliver the plan that was put in place by the coaches, that week's work is always satisfying.

So now? The next challenge?

It will certainly take a full squad effort as it did last year to go on and win the double again.

There have been in and around 56 players used across both campaigns for Leinster this season - and that may well rise to 57 tomorrow in the Kingspan Stadium - which shows how many guys have to be dialled in throughout the year.

The season has flown by since Christmas and it's crazy to think we are almost in May again.

This week we go back to the Guinness PRO14 for what is the last league match of the regular season against Ulster, before the knockout stages commence.

Ourselves and Ulster are in Conference B and like us, Ulster have already secured a knockout spot.

For them that's a home quarter-final against Connacht but like us, I'm sure they will be thinking that the game against Connacht can wait.

This is a standalone game against Leinster and they will certainly be looking for revenge for that defeat in the Aviva last month.

Toughest

Ravenhill is one of the toughest places to go and win and the group know just how well you need to play to come away with the points.

The players who will get the opportunity to play will be conscious of keeping the winning momentum going for the team and also taking the opportunity to put hands up for selection for these final knockout games.

After the game against Ulster it is knockout rugby from there until the end of the season so the time for trials is done.

This really is the last chance to show the coaches that you are playing well enough for a spot in the match-day 23 for those massive games.

Everyone knows what's at stake but we also know that you can't get lost in those personal thoughts. We all have to tune in to what's best for the team. If we do that, we won't be too far away.

Irish Independent

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