First of all, the team selection is strong as expected but the state of the minds within this strong selection is what should be focused on more so, I’ll get to that later.
What can we say about Toulon? Well, it’s mostly all positive. European heavy weights and current champions, packed with internationals, world greats, massive experience and a huge desire to win. Having been awful for years, they now have two Heineken Cups and one Top14 title to their names in the past 2 seasons. They have a whopping 30 internationals in their squad and an opportunity to do what no team has done before, win 3 European titles in three years. It all sounds amazing of course and if I was a Toulon supporter, I’d be feeling pretty confident going into Sunday’s game in the south of France, and rightly so given the resources and power they have and how they’ve shown that by swatting away the other teams in the group like flies. However, with all this flattery towards Toulon, it’s important at this point to compare their merits (or dick size if you will) with that of Leinster.
Well, what can I say about Leinster? It is mostly positive in the blue corner as well. European heavy weights and three times champions, also packed with internationals, massive experience and a huge desire to win. If you include the Amlin Cup, they’ve won 3 European titles in 3 years, not to mention 5 trophies in 4 years. They have a whopping 28 internationals in their squad and an opportunity to do what only one team has done before, win 4 European titles (in 6 years). Wait, it’s almost the same bio as Toulon, although a little more impressive overall. But Toulon are far better than us aren’t they? How can this be?
The main difference between the two sides is a pretty big one and hidden behind the merits outlined above; Toulon are performing far better than Leinster this season. On one hand, you have a team that is top of their league table, unbeaten in Europe this season and playing very fancy expansive rugby albeit dipping in quality over the last couple of months. On the other hand, you have a team that has struggled to qualify for the knockout stages and creeped past the quarter final. Oh, and they’re 5thin their league table. It’s easy to identify which team is which.
The fact is, as it stands, Toulon are in much better nick to take on Leinster than the other way around, based on the previous performances this season. So I guess that’s that sorted, Toulon have played better so they should defeat Leinster on Sunday, right? Well, no, not in my opinion. My reason for this is based on experience of following a heavyweight team for the past few years. As you know well, previous games and previous form all goes out the window at this stage of the competition. What comes into play is experience, that mentality that never gives up, the drive that can’t be broken, the resilience and hunger to win no matter the odds. The teams that win Heineken Cups are teams that believe they will do it and are convinced that they have all the skills necessary to push all opposition to side.
This is where Leinster’s experience and winning mentality will come into play. They must believe that they can beat Toulon, every single player has to believe this or it won’t happen, because Toulon will certainly have their heads screwed on, at training at least.
So this leads me to my analysis of that experience and mentality within the Leinster squad. My tag line for this game is a saying that I remembered the other day – “It is not the size of dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog.” I’d love to think that this saying will be pinned up on the wall in the Leinster dressing room, it certainly feels like it might be!
The players know what they have to do, Gopperth has been showing a lot of passion this week at interviews, as too has Madigan and Heaslip, it’s refreshing to read and listen to them this week. One quote I’ll give as an example and offer as an overall nutshell of where their mindsets are at is Sean Cronins interview where he said “we’ve confidence in ourselves. It probably is going to take one of our best games in a few seasons to get a win. You have to have belief, I suppose. We have a few key words this week, belief and desire, and intensity would be another one. I know they’re easy words to say and actually bringing them into action is the tough part but we have to have a bit of belief in ourselves.”
I thought Cronin’s interview summed it up perfectly and solidified everyone else’s comments as a collective mind-set. It appears that they all have confidence and belief.
Where will the game be won and lost? Speaking of Cronin, if his lineouts are crooked again this week, we’ll be in huge trouble. The scrum has been a big weapon for Leinster this season so if that’s on song, it’ll go a long way to keeping Toulon at bay. The big winning area will be the breakdown, specifically the rucks. Leinster have lost games and let teams back into games by not holding on to possession and not committing to the rucks. If Leinster can tighten that up, we will ware Toulon down and implement the game plan of (presumably) attack more effectively.
Put bluntly, Gopperth needs to wake up. If he continues to hoof the ball downfield at every opportunity, and without a kick chase may I add, we’ll get suffocated and destroyed by Toulon’s backs, just like our last meeting with Toulon.
If Leinster can tighten up, get the basics right, hold on to possession more than normal, and most importantly bring a huge sense of belief and self-control, we will win this game. Fail in those areas and Toulon will bask in glory once again.
I struggled to believe in Leinster earlier in the week following the Bath game and the defeat to Dragons last weekend. However, it’s actually the players comments and my memories of past glory and the way it was achieved that brought me back. I am getting a great feel from the team and even the coach this week which I haven’t gotten a whiff of the rest of the season. Because of this, I think we will hold Toulon out for 60 minutes and then show our real metal and mental strength in the final 20 minutes to break Toulon and win the game.
Simply put, the fight in the dog will win this match.
Prediction: Toulon 20, Leinster 22.