So here we go! The mighty Toulouse are welcomed to the RDS for the biggest game of the season for Leinster. A Toulouse team galvanised from their last encounter with the champions. They won it by a point at home with some classy play, some French flair and more than a little aggression. After that game, the Leinster support couldn’t have been angry with the 1-point defeat. The result was probably the right one on the day and the way the French played, left a smile on everyone’s face.
But now is a different story. This is the business end of the season, the time where positions in the knockout stages are on the line, pride is on the line and form is to be proven to the higher ups. Toulouse come in with a massive 12 game unbeaten run, only 1 draw with our old friends in Clermont blotting their copy book. Leinster come in with a fairly consistent season so far without having to get out of third gear. Leinster haven’t played to their 85% normal that they had last year but have been consistent for the most part. Trips to Thomond park where a rush of blood to the head for 80 minutes cost them a clean slate over the last 9 games since their trip to France. Not a bad return, and the Leinster support have been spoiled with victories and good play, but the squad is being tested in late 2018 and into 2019. Both teams have beaten Bath and Wasps, Leinster quite convincingly, Toulouse not so much. Allowing wasps score 43 points over the 2 games, Leinster allowed the concession of 3 points when Wasps visited the RDS with the return trip ahead of them in 2019. Bath scored 20 against Toulouse’s 22 and had THAT missed try that cost them. Leinster conceded 25 in total home and away. Using rugby mathematics, Leinster win on Saturday.
Sport doesn’t necessarily work as outlined above, Toulouse are in the midst of a turnaround, they are THE team in France who will put everything out there for the Heineken cup. When it comes down to is, most other French teams will aim at the top 14 ahead of Europe. They are playing with freedom that comes with being ahead of schedule in terms of performance. It appears that they planned to be where they are this weekend, next year, which allows them to pass the ball with freedom as seen against Leinster at home. They have mastered the counter attack; they know that Leinster know that they have mastered the counter attack. So this opens up the testing of the vaunted and mythical Leinster defence.
Leinster have front line players missing, Henshaw, Sexton, Kearney, Toner all recent omissions from the squad. The conveyor belt has been called on and the theory of front liners and replacements being thiseclose will be tested. Conor O’Brien capitalises on a big performance against Ulster last week with a late registration and call up. The pack lines up near perfect. Healy, Cronin, Furlong, Fardy, Ryan, Ruddock, JVDF and Conan will be facing up against a monster pack and will need to be switched on from the moment their alarm clock goes off for the first feed of the day at 8:30 am on Saturday. Behind them you have Dave Kearney and Byrne on the wings with Rory O’Loughlin and Ringrose in the midfield. That will be where 1 of the battles will take place, in place of the workhouse and battering ram that is Henshaw, Rory O’Loughlin takes his well-earned spot. N’tamack and Guitoune will be aiming directly at him throughout the day. Testing him. O’Loughlin has the skill, strength and cheekiness to stand up to it, but this will be a cauldron and a test of the man. The second row of Fardy and super-Ryan will also be in for a test. Toner will be missed, as this has been one of the best seasons in his 312 year paying career. Fardy will need to be at his enforcer best to make sure that the visitors don’t get the front foot. Ryan will continue to play like he is made of steel.
So what needs to happen for a Leinster win. Will the lack of operating at optimal (they haven’t needed too for 99% of the season) cost them when the time comes to call on it? That kind of output is kind of like any muscle, if you don’t use it, you lose it.