How Leinster can beat Toulon - from those that have found a way

Be aggressive . . . don’t let them run at you . . . go helter-skelter at them . . . frontrow key . . . and clearouts . . . Johnny’s gone

While many believe the Toulon machine can not be stopped as it targets a third straight European crown, here’s the advice from coaches and players who have recorded wins over the French giants.


Stade Français flanker whose side have beaten Toulon home and away in this season’s Top 14

“We identified Toulon as a team that plays expansively and goes wide to wide, so our own attack kept its width in defence and we had a very aggressive line speed. That took away some of their space and decision-making time, particularly in the second game at home when we beat them 30-6.


“If Leinster are to stand any chance they have to reduce Toulon’s time and space when they’re attacking. So even if, for example, Toulon create a two-man overlap Leinster just need to get up fast and try to force an error from them.

“The worst thing to do is let them run at you because they have so many dangerous men in their backline. In the backrow it doesn’t matter which combination actually starts because they are quality players.

“Steffon Armitage is always a headache and causes more problems than any other flanker because of his ability to steal ball. That’s also an underrated aspect of Mathieu Bastareaud’s game, his flanker-like ability to win turnover ball. He and Steffon are real poachers at the breakdown and so when Leinster take the ball into contact they must be quick and efficient otherwise they will lose possession.”


Former Leinster and Ireland hooker, now coach of Grenoble, who were the only Top 14 side to beat Toulon home and away last season. Last Saturday Grenoble lost 35-24 to Toulon

“After beating them home and away last season they were always going to come for us this season but I think they’re harder to beat this year because they’ve developed this ability to grind out results from games.

“They are beatable but for Leinster to win they’ll have to play helter-skelter for 80 minutes, maintain a very high tempo, and really contest the breakdown and generate good quality set-piece ball. “In last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-final Leinster were made to look average at the breakdown and they found Steffon Armitage really hard to deal with. When we played Toulon last Saturday we got demolished in the scrum but we still scored four tries so Leinster should bear that in mind. But it’s hard to find many weaknesses in the Toulon side.

"It's a huge plus that Matt Giteau has returned and against us he looked strong despite his long injury lay-off. He's very dangerous when he plays at 10 but it's at centre he's most effective for them because he's a second distributor in the backline and that means they can really use their pace out wide. And to cap it all, they have their power game up front. You have to say on paper, Leinster don't stand much of a chance."


Samoa and Toulouse prop whose side have also beaten Toulon both home and away this season

“Of all Toulouse’s victories against Toulon the most memorable was when we beat them [18-12]in the final of the Top 14 in 2012. We’d struggled in the set piece against them during the season and we knew that if we were to have any chance of winning it was going to be through our scrum.

Leinster's two props, Cian Healy and Mike Ross, are both world-class and have improved since I played them in the semi-final of the 2011 Heineken Cup. But they have a huge job ahead of them because no matter who starts for Toulon on Sunday – Hayman, Castrogiovanni, Chiocci, Menini or Chilachava – they are all tough props (Chiocci and Hayman have been picked).

“So my advice is that the set piece has to be spot-on and Leinster must try to set down a marker in the first couple of scrums to let Toulon know that they don’t intend to be dominated. You can’t let Toulon play on the front foot as they have guys in the backline who will punish you every time. Meet them head on and don’t give them easy metres. And Leinster have to believe they can do it. No one is unbeatable.”


Former Northampton and Leinster lock was a member of the Oyonnax XV that stunned beat Toulon their 25-22 in 2013-14 in their inaugural season of Top 14 rugby

“In the build-up to the game the emphasis from our coach was that we had nothing to lose as we were just up from Pro2, playing against a side with more than 650 caps. So Leinster should take advantage of the lack of pressure on their shoulders as clear underdogs.

“Where can they win it? They must be competitive in the collision area. I don’t see them dominating but they need to be at least competitive at the breakdown as well as accurate and efficient. If it takes Leinster three players to clear out one of theirs at the breakdown they’ll really struggle to gain any sort of momentum.

"The key to our victory was our aggression, particularly in defence. Every time Toulon had the ball we tackled them very aggressively and that kept us in the game for long periods, even when we didn't have the ball. I was up against Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams in the secondrow that day. Both are very strong men and Bakkies has got a great technique at the lineout of getting through our front lifter by breaking his bind, and so disrupting our maul, which was a good part of our game."


Former England flanker and World Cup winner is now the defence coach at Bordeaux, and earlier this season helped mastermind a 28-23 defeat of Toulon

“We beat them 41-0 two years ago but that was a day when we played out of our skins and they weren’t really at the races – it can happen. In February we beat them because we took the chances that came our way.

“In attack Leinster have got to bring everything to the party, try to play like the Irish have done recently but I think they’ll struggle with Toulon’s power at the set piece. They have to stop Toulon dominating the scrum and getting their driving lineout going. They have some really powerful ball carriers in their forward pack and you have to try to stop them at source.

"In the backs, Leinster must ensure their kicking game is precise; if they simply kick the ball to Toulon and gift them easy territory they will open you up. On the plus side for Leinster, what made Toulon so good last year was they had Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau calling the shots and so they could play it wide, play it up the middle, or kick. Add the pair's calmness under pressure and Toulon had such a dangerous backline. Jonny's retired, Giteau's coming back from injury, so perhaps that's one comfort for Leinster."

(Guardian service)