Toulon not a bridge too far for Jimmy Gopperth
Leinster outhalf knows he and team-mates will have to be at very best to quell reigning champions
Leinster outhalf Jimmy Gopperth in possession during the Pro12 game against Dragons at Rodney Parade last weekend. Photograph: Ian Cook/Inpho.
Nevertheless, in last season’s 29-14 quarter-final defeat away to the same opponents, Leinster trailed by 16-9 approaching the hour mark with an attacking line-out, which admittedly had been brittle all day. Danie Rossouw disrupted the throw, Stefon Armitage hacked down field and, after Mathieu Bastareaud beat three tackles, Drew Mitchell scored.
In reviewing that game, and that huge turning point, Gopperth took some heart from the opportunities Leinster left behind and that they were in touch for 60 minutes.
Comparing Toulon to leading Super Rugby sides, Gopperth added: “It’s probably the most talked-about team in the world. They have some class internationals and they could put out a second 15 and still fill it with international players. The calibre is there, the experience is there and they seem to be enjoying it. They are down in the south of France, they’re loving life and their rugby, and when you are enjoying your rugby with the talent they have then you have a formidable force.”
“Then when we’ve got the ball we’ve got to respect it and look after it. Try and move them around the pitch because they are a big unit. If we do those two things well then we are going to give ourselves an opportunity.”
Perhaps partly because of the threat posed by Armitage and co at the breakdown, Gopperth only once put width on the ball, and that that was with an advantage. Whether or not that was playing to orders, Gopperth conceded that Leinster would have to emulate aspects of the more ambitious displays of Wasps and Grenoble in the last fortnight when taking Toulon through phases and finding space out wide.
“Yeah, we have got to play what we see and play the opportunity. We know that they do leak a few tries, we know there’s opportunities there and we know we’ve got to take them. We’ll do our homework on them and see where the opportunities are, so then it’s up to us to exploit those and make those opportunities count.”
Gopperth’s performance on Sunday against the Dragons mirrored that of Leinster. For 50 minutes he played very well, taking the ball to the line and contributing to two tries by Ben Te’o as well as scoring a fine effort himself, before a wayward kick out on the full contributed to the Dragons’ comeback.
“Look, our form hasn’t been great coming in,” he concedes. “I thought the first 50 minutes was very good. We put them under a lot of pressure and led 22-8 and then slipped a couple of simple tries. Yeah, it does hurt. That’s the league. As soon as that game was finished and we came in Monday morning it was cup rugby.
“It is a one-off game so just draw a line in the sand and look forward to this game. A lot of guys were out and didn’t play in that game, a lot of guys were playing their first game in it for a long time, so it was a little bit disjointed. Now we have the opportunity to put things right.”
The brace of tries by Te’o should also be encouraging for the centre and his team-mates. “He’s impressed me a lot in how he’s learned really quickly. He’s really keen to understand the game and he’s adapted really quickly,” says Gopperth.
This is a particularly significant game for the Kiwi outhalf. If Leinster lose, this will be Gopperth’s 15th and last European Cup game for the province before he relocates to Wasps in the close-season.
“This is why I came to Leinster, to have the opportunity to win big trophies and if I get the opportunity this week then I’ll be putting my body on the line and giving everything I’ve got. Everyone wants to play in that final on May 2nd in Twickenham, so it will mean a lot for me personally and it’s one I’m looking forward to.”