Toulouse lock Rory Arnold admits he got Zebo tackle wrong

The Australian lock has learned lessons from the Munster game as Toulouse face Leinster

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony competes in the air with Rory Arnold of Toulouse in their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final game at Aviva Stadium in  Dublin on May 7th. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Munster’s Peter O’Mahony competes in the air with Rory Arnold of Toulouse in their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final game at Aviva Stadium in Dublin on May 7th. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

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In Australia they know Rory Arnold as one of the twin brothers who turned up on an afternoon in 2010 when a few guys were playing touch rugby outside Bilambil Sports Club in Australia.

Having a beer afterwards, Rory and Richie, standing 6ft 10in, were asked who they played for. “Nobody,” came the reply. So, the pair were invited to come to pre-season. They did, both arriving to play barefoot.

They couldn’t get boots big enough and they trained in their bare feet with the Murwillumbah Bananas until the local shop managed to stock some size 14s. So began the storied rapid rise of Rory, who at one point became the tallest player in Australian rugby.

In Ireland Arnold will be remembered from last week’s European Champions Cup quarter-final, when Simon Zebo gathered the ball and a dark-haired figure hit him slightly late in the tackle.

Zebo went off his feet before he was slammed horizontally to the ground. After several replays referee Luke Pearce judged it fractionally short of a red card offence.

Yeah, if I was shown red then, it would have drastically changed the outcome of that game. I was very lucky there and I need to be better around that collision zone

Arnold, as he watched the slow-motion replay and Zebo’s head hitting the turf, was concerned it could have easily been a different colour than the yellow.

“I was, to be honest,” says the Toulouse lock. “When they slowed it down, there wasn’t much in it. I definitely got that one wrong.

“Yeah, if I was shown red then, it would have definitely drastically changed the outcome of that game. I was very lucky there and I need to be better around that collision zone.”

Relief was his primary thought as he walked to the bin. But most of all, lesson learned a week out from meeting Leinster on Saturday in the semi-final. For Arnold, discipline was one of his main take-aways from the game against Munster.

“Yeah. Absolutely,” he says. “These big games are usually quite close. So, a yellow card or red card, it will be devastating if a team gives it away, especially a red card.”

Familiarity

This week the team will arrive on Thursday, a day earlier than they did against Munster. Back to Dublin for the second week running has some familiarity. But all Arnold wants is a good day and a big crowd.

“We’ll be going a day earlier, so we’ll be a bit more relaxed in that way,” he says of preparing for the Aviva Stadium. “I’m expecting more people there, a full stadium, and I can’t wait, it’s exciting times.

“We’ll get in on Thursday, it gives you that extra time. You can adjust a bit. You’ve got a full day there before the captain’s run, and gameday on Saturday. I enjoy that a bit more.”

A loss of momentum either side of half-time from the French team invited Munster back into the match. But when Arnold was in the bin, Munster scored just three points through Joey Carbery.

Still, Arnold is aware, and maybe the Toulouse squad, that four-times winners Leinster have more of a ruthless capacity to punish teams that drop tempo or players.

There is nothing between the teams, when you look at how much experience they have and how successful they have been in their competition and in the Heineken as well

“You can’t do that against a quality team like that,” says Arnold. “We played well for the first half, the first 35 minutes and then both sides of half-time we weren’t good enough and the card sort of changed it. Yeah, we’re under no illusions that a good 80-minute performance is needed.

“There is nothing between the teams, when you look at how much experience they have and how successful they have been in their competition and in the Heineken as well. They’re a class team and we know it’s going to be a challenge on Saturday.”

Another motivation for the 31-year-old is winning back-to-back trophies. Just four clubs have won successive championships but not Toulouse.

Leicester Tigers were first (2000-02) before Leinster did it (2010-12). Saracens then completed the double (2015-17), while Toulon have won it three years running (2012-15).

Opportunity

Toulouse have won the trophy five times, more than any other club, but never two years in a row. They had the opportunity almost 20 years ago, when they beat Perpignan in the 2003 final, the second of their wins, but were then beaten by London Wasps the following year in Twickenham before winning it a third time a year later.

“Last year was such a special year and I was lucky enough to do it alongside my brother and yeah, it was something that I’ll never forget,” says Arnold.

“But that was last year now, and we’re in a similar position this year. We’ve got a couple to go and we’re under no illusions to how big this weekend is for us if we want to do it again. I think this weekend is going to be the biggest test for us.”

Win and they are just one away from six European titles.

“Yeah, pretty special if you think about it,” he says. “But we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We know how big the challenge is awaiting us.

“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and we’ve definitely had some tough teams on the way to this semi-final. It’s no different this weekend, they’re a world-class team.”

With 22 Australian caps, he was once one of the highest-paid Australian players. Quite the journey from no boots with his brother Richie playing with “the Gentlemen of Murwillumbah”.

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