Matt O’Connor has the chance to make his mark with Leinster if they beat Toulon
This still feels like the tail end of the Joe Schmidt era but one big result will change that
As they’ve gone on through the season, they’ve got better and better under O’Connor. He hasn’t changed an awful lot. If you wanted to pick something out, they probably kick a little bit more now than when Schmidt was in charge. The word coming out from Leinster was that he was going to be more defence-orientated than Schmidt was but I don’t think that has been really glaring or anything.
From the outside looking in, he has kept the ship steady and hasn’t made a lot of fuss. This is the weekend his impact will have the greatest chance of being seen. Leinster can win in Toulon, I have no doubt they can. There are very few teams in Europe that you could say that about but Leinster have the players to pull it off.
Leinster’s game is built around pace. They have the speed to put phases together and to move Toulon around.
Toulon are a big, physically-dominant team who kick a lot – they’re used to having a lot of possession, especially at home.
Leinster can match them up front and test them by moving possession quickly and exposing weaknesses in a Toulon side that isn’t used to not having the ball.
This is a huge game for O’Connor. If they lose, he probably won’t get much the credit for the good things Leinster have done since Schmidt left. He has brought through some good young players – the likes of Marty Moore, Jack McGrath and Jordi Murphy got their first games under Schmidt but he has brought them along and made them frontline players. But you still get the feeling a lot of people see them as Schmidt projects.
If Leinster win in Toulon, that all changes. It will be a statement result, like when they beat Clermont in Bordeaux in 2012. One big result gives everybody confidence – players, the coach, the supporters . . . everyone.
It isn’t just a big result for this season – it stands to you for years. You refer back to it when other big games come on the horizon. That’s a big thing for a coach to be able to do. Instead of saying “Remember when you did this before” he can say, “Remember when we did it before”.
Win this weekend and you’d have to make Leinster favourites for the competition. Matt O’Connor’s Leinster, that is.