Toulon Too Good For Leinster
Toulon v Leinster
Ireland’s last hope in this season’s Champions Cup, Leinster, go to Toulon, the Real Madrid of European Rugby.
Last year’s Heineken Cup winners Toulon found themselves in a tough qualifying Pool, but suffered only one defeat, at Leicester, en route to topping the section and setting up a home quarter-final against Wasps, which they won comfortably thanks to six penalties from the boot of Frederic Michalak. They are also leading the way domestically, having won eight of their last nine in the Top 14.
Leinster have been plagued by inconsistency all season. They are currently fifth in the Pro12 table, twelve points off the pace set by Glasgow Warriors, and go into this game having won just one of their last six league matches. Europe has at least offered some respite. They dropped points against Harlequins and were held to a draw by Wasps in their final game, but topped Pool 2 and edge out Bath in the quarter-finals.
Leigh Halfpenny may not be fit in time for this game after sustaining a big hit to his previously-damaged right shoulder against Grenoble, but Toulon have plenty of options. Delon Armitage can switch to full-back allowing Australian winger Drew Mitchell to come into the side, and the home team are also likely to be strengthened by the return of All-Black trio Carl Hayman, Ali Williams and Chris Masoe
Under-fire Leinster coach Matt O’Connor rested several front-line players for last weekend’s defeat against Newport Gwent Dragons in order to have them fit for this match, and the return of Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney should give them a boost. Fergus McFadden didn’t pass the return to play protocols last weekend, but should also be available on Sunday.
Head to Head
Twelve months ago, Leinster met Toulon for the first time, in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. In a tough encounter, they held the French side 6-6 at half-time but finally succumbed to waves of Toulon attacks after the break, eventually losing 29-14.
The comparative home and away records of the two sides doesn’t give Leinster fans too much room for optimism either.
They’ve won just nine of their twenty-four games in France whilst Toulon’s formidable home record in this competition extends to fifteen consecutive wins on French soil.
These two sides possess a wealth of European experience not to mention five European titles between them, but although history suggests this could be a close game, the evidence of recent months suggests otherwise.
Leinster’s pack should be able to give as good as they get in Marseille, but that won’t be enough to overcome a Toulon squad that possesses greater strength in depth than any other club in Europe.
If Leinster were in any sort of form it might be a different story, but they’ve struggled all season and a thrashing could be on the cards. Back Toulon -11 at Evens in the Match Handicap market.