Toulon have chinks in their armour, says Mike Prendergast
Grenoble coach believes Leinster can cause an upset in their Champions Cup semi-final
Grenoble flanker Rory Grice scores one of his side’s four tries against Toulon in their Top 14 35-24 defeat. Photograph: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP Photo
Grenoble coach Mike Prendergast in his playing days for Young Munster. He thinks Leinster can target the lineout and wide areas against Toulon. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
departure, Mourad Boudjellal’s ageing galácticos continue to dominate but, seemingly, a blueprint for beating Toulon does exist.
Unperturbed the French and European champions counter-punched via Bryan Habana and Matt Giteau tries, ably assisted by three separate place-kickers to ensure a 35-24 victory that keeps them top of the Top 14.
The unbeatable nature of time seems Leinster’s best hope at the Stade Vélodrome this Sunday. “They are ageing and are maybe not as consistent as last season,” Prendergast told The Irish Times.
Leigh Halfpenny was recruited to fill Wilkinson’s bean-counting void but his rickety frame was exposed once again by Grenoble flanker Peter Kimlin. The Australian’s ferocious tackle appears to have damaged the same right shoulder that required surgery last year. The Wales fullback had just returned following his second recorded concussion this season.
“I imagine Halfpenny will be out as it looked up around his A/C joint,” Prendergast continued. “That’s usually a few weeks.”
Toulon barely noticed. Frédéric Michalak slotted two short-range penalties with Delon Armitage landing another pair from way out the field.
Halfpenny’s latest problem could actually strengthen Toulon’s attack as Armitage would shift to fullback with Wallaby winger Drew Mitchell adding his verve. But Prendergast witnessed clear structural flaws.
“Another area Leinster can look to go after them is at set piece. Their lineout is statistically the third worst in the Top 14. Their scrum has been creaking of late as well.”
With Toulon there’s a constant counter-argument. Carl Hayman should return at tighthead to lead them along with fellow All Blacks Ali Williams and Chris Masoe while Springbok World Cup winners Juan Smith and Bakkies Botha will both do well to make the bench.
“Their physicality and ability to hold on to ball is their obvious strength but they are incredibly ruthless off any turnover ball. There have so many threats out wide. With us they were happy to build phases and eke out penalties.”
The conversion of half of their 14 penalties against Grenoble resulted in 21 of their 35 points. “A lot of that pressure came in the 20 minutes after half-time. They are a team that clip in and clip out.
“We went into the game knowing we would have to hold on to the ball as we felt once you get into phase play against them they do get a bit narrow around the ruck. We kept up our tempo and moved them around and opportunities presented themselves out wide. Three of our four tries we scored after 10 phases.
“It’s one thing saying you need to hold on to ball against a side like Toulon, you have to be accurate at the breakdown as well. They have real threats there like [Mamuka] Gorgodze, Bastareaud, [Steffon] Armitage who can get their hands on the ball and slow it down.”
Steffon Armitage might also be injured. “He came on and went off injured so that could be crucial to Leinster’s cause.”
What probably happens in this case is Gorgodze and Smith will bring an all-out power game to the flanks. “Not a bad alternative,” Prendergast admitted but like any decent coach he identified an obvious Toulon strength as a potential weakness.
“Perhaps they can target Bastareaud. He slipped off a few tackles against us. From strike plays, off solid set-piece, they can go after him, he’s not the greatest defender especially in his outside channel.
“Michalak has been kicking well but we know he can be got at too.”
A dramatic collapse in front of the Lansdowne posts during the 2013 Six Nations springs to mind.
What is apparent of late is a Leinster scrumhalf does not receive the same protection as an Ireland one when box kicking. It nearly cost them against Bath and did against the Dragons.
“Everything is stacked with Toulon,” Prendergast added. “They are top of the Top 14, going for three in a row, but I just think Leinster are due a big one. Toulon are beatable. If we were a bit smarter and held on to the ball a bit more we could have won. But they will go up a notch for Champions Cup. ”