Leinster v Toulouse: Lancaster says French team's unstructured play 'at different level'
Leinster must be ‘controlled and composed’ against Toulouse on Saturday
Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster at squad training in Energia Park, Donnybrook on Monday. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
The animation in Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster’s tone illustrated that it is not just players who are exercised by the prospect of being involved in one of the great Heineken Champions Cup afternoons, as Leinster and Toulouse meet at a long sold-out RDS on Saturday lunchtime (1.0).
They have divvied up eight European titles – four apiece – but the clubs also share a rugby tradition and culture in terms of the way they prefer to play the game: aesthetics matter but not to the exclusion of success.
Matches between the teams tend to be memorable occasions, not least the most recent last October, an enthralling, breathless encounter. When the merry-go-round of points stopped, it was Toulouse who squeezed home 28-27.
Leinster’s disappointment in the aftermath was palpable and it hasn’t diminished much on reflection. Lancaster explained: “The frustration for me in that game was the 14-0 start we gave them and when you play against a team with the quality of Toulouse at home it then makes it very difficult to come back. Obviously we did brilliantly to do that, to get to 27-21, and then there was the intercept try, 28-27, and they hang on for the win.
“We channel that [frustration] and learn lessons from it because while we got back in front there were parts of the second half where, with the atmosphere and the sense of occasion, we made some errors when we were playing well.
“We missed a lineout, we kicked loosely to them and they counterattacked and pinned us into the corner. So lots of lessons [to take] home but playing at home in the RDS in front of a full house, it is certainly the premier game in Europe this week given the quality of the two teams involved. They are as good a team, in terms of preparation, that I have coached against.”
The French side are unbeaten in their last 12 matches in all competitions, winning 11, and have rediscovered the swagger redolent of their pomp in Europe. Leinster have a couple of major injury issues; Toulouse have no such concerns and will also be able to call upon former All Black Jerome Kaino who missed the first match between the teams through suspension.
Lancaster acknowledged: “Well, Kaino’s back, and he makes a difference. It will be a similar backline, but [Antoine] Dupont is playing more consistently now than before. He is world-class. They’ll probably play [Thomas] Ramos at 10. They’ve got [Romain] Ntamack and then there’s the back three of [Yoann] Huget, [Maxime] Médard and [Cheslin] Kolbe.
“But also they’ve got, which is different to normal French teams, ball-handling forwards. So [Joe] Tekori is a huge handful and [so too, Charlie] Faumuina. Across the board, they’re just tough to play. So, we need to play our style, obviously, but we need to make sure that we respect the ball as well because if we turn the ball over quickly, or cheaply, they’ll be gone or they’ll be trying to go.
“The big thing for me is being on point defensively as well. Making sure we’re working hard across the board defensively. Of all the tries they have scored, over half of them are off counterattack, which is incredible, really.
It should be a fantastic game. Two champions have won the competition four times each
“If you look at the top tries of the season I reckon Toulouse would have the top five at the moment in terms of their running and ability to break and play unstructured rugby. We pride ourselves in our ability to play unstructured rugby but they are at a different level. They are outstanding.
“So we need to be controlled and composed but also not be afraid to fire some shots of our own as well. It should be a fantastic game. Two champions have won the competition four times each and both at the top of their respective domestic competitions.”
A key for Leinster will be introduce a tempo to the game that drains the energy from Toulouse legs, something they managed as part of their revival in the first match. But, as Toulouse demonstrated, no matter how much they may be gassing, they retain that ability and instinct to capitalise on turnover ball, irrespective of where it is on the pitch.
One player that Leinster will have to be vigilant in closing down – he caused the Irish province problems in the first game – is Springbok international wing Cheslin Kolbe. Lancaster admitted: “Where do you want to start?
“I mean I’ve seen him run around people, dodge around people and then I saw him score another try where he actually ran through the 10, just ran over him. I mean you think he doesn’t look huge but he ran through the middle of a ruck the other day, and yeah, he’s got incredible feet.
“You’d pay money to see Jordan Larmour and Kolbe on the same field; wouldn’t you?” Some 18,500 fans agree and will enjoy that privilege come Saturday.