Sport Rugby

Sunday 18 August 2019

O'Connor calm and collected as he blocks out 'noise' and focuses on Toulon

Leinster's Jamie Heaslip
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

For a man under pressure, Matt O'Connor cut a pretty relaxed figure at Leinster's UCD headquarters yesterday.

The Australian was nonplussed when faced with questions about his own future and the potential impact of the result of this weekend's Champions Cup semi-final clash with Toulon on Sunday, while he was his usual bullish self when it came to the apparently daunting task of taking on the French and European champions in their own backyard.

A vocal contingent of Leinster fans have already made their judgment on the former Wallaby's credentials.

But while there are those, O'Connor doesn't look too perturbed about changing their minds.

Instead, his focus is entirely on finding a performance on Sunday that would put his side in a position to win what will be "a battle that's going to be as big a game as Leinster's ever had".

"It's huge, that's the standard that the group sets itself, we have got loads of very, very keen fans that want us to be at the top end of Europe and the playing group want to be at that level, that's why we play and why we're involved in the game, for occasions like Sunday," he said.

"It's a knockout game where you put yourself in position to be champions of Europe and that's where you want to be. It's not about me and that's the reality.

"It is noise, it is a distraction and it's about the group and preparing them to be as good as they can at the weekend to put us in position to get a result. What happens to me or all the other individuals within the environment is very, very secondary."

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Leinster will have to make do without Wallaby lock Kane Douglas for the rest of the season after his back injury failed to clear and needs surgery. Shane Jennings is unlikely to be available after he continued to show symptoms of concussion during the week.

O'Connor is expected to stick with the men who beat Bath in the quarter-final earlier this month, with Ben Marshall poised to come on to the bench instead of Tom Denton after impressing against the Dragons. Although the appointment of Wayne Barnes has largely been met with a negative reaction outside of their camp, Leinster hope that the English official's interpretations around the ruck area can work in their favour.

"I have all the sides of Wayne," captain Jamie Heaslip said.

"I have been red-carded, yellow-carded, I have been on the good side, the bad side of him. I actually really like the guy.

"He wants a free-flowing game and is very clear of that and he doesn't want anyone talking to him as in he just wants to converse with the captains, which is pretty much the way it should be.

"Again before the game he is very, very clear about that and gives very good messages.

"For us anyway playing you kind of want to take the referee out of the game by being disciplined around the breakdown."

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