Tuesday 16 January 2018

Matt O'Connor feeling the heat ahead of 'biggest test we could face'

Leinster coach admits he is under pressure ahead of 'biggest test we could face'

Ruaidhri O'Connor and Matt Lloyd

Under-fire Leinster coach Matt O'Connor admits the pressure is on him and his side to rescue their season.

The success of the three-time European champions' campaign comes down to this weekend's daunting Champions Cup semi-final clash with Toulon in Marseille, given that they sit eight points behind Ospreys in the race for the Guinness Pro12 play-offs and look odds-on to miss out on the top four for the first time since 2004.

With his side in danger of missing out on a trophy for the just the second time since 2007 and fan unrest building after a disappointing campaign, O'Connor conceded that he's a man under pressure.

O'Connor is contracted at Leinster until 2016 but a heavy defeat to the European champions, who hammered the Blues in the quarter-finals last season, would only heap more heat on the beleaguered Australian.

"There is always pressure. There is pressure every week to win. The dynamic of meritocracy has changed the league and there are a lot of teams digging in and making results harder at this stage," he said.

"From that end we have to review things and make sure we are better because the league has grown enormously this season on the back of meritocracy and we probably haven't mirrored that."

O'Connor believes that the fixture taking place at the 67,000-capacity Stade Velodrome in Marseille takes some of the edge off three-in-a-row-chasing Toulon.

"It's a massive game and it definitely helps that the game is in Marseille because Toulon are incredibly hard to beat at home, as they have proven over the last two or three years," he said.

"Very few teams win at Felix Mayol so the fact we're playing in Marseille offers a little comfort for us but they still have one hell of a side. It's the biggest test we could face in European rugby but they have to earn it.

"We have to make sure we're as good as we can be to make it as difficult as possible, be in the tie for as long as possible and make a contest of it."

Wayne Barnes has been appointed as referee for Sunday's clash, with Nigel Owens and Greg Garner the touch-judges.

Leinster's Ireland contingent won't have fond memories of the English referee who whistled them off the pitch in their sole Six Nations defeat against Wales last month.

Irish Independent

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