Stuart Lancaster said this week that Saturday’s clash between Leinster and Toulouse in the Heineken Champions Cup is the “premier” fixture of this weekend’s European action – it’s not difficult to see why.
Toulouse have been on an unbeaten streak since late September. They have won all games since that loss to Castres but for a draw away to Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne in December.
For Leinster, their overall form has been equally impressive. Leinster have lost just two games in the Guinness PRO14 like their French opponents who have lost just twice in their domestic competition.
With just two points separating the sides at the top of the Pool 1, this weekend at the RDS looks all set for a classic.
Leinster’s one-point defeat to Toulouse at the Stade Ernest Wallon was a frustrating one for the eastern province. Although they were below their usual best, they clawed back a large first-half deficit to lead the game going into the closing stages only for an intercept try to tear up the script of yet another famous away win.
There was no shortage of top performers that day for the French side but one man who wasn’t present was Jerome Kaino. The former All Black missed that game as he was serving a five-match suspension.
Since Kaino’s return to the Toulouse side, he has immediately found his form. The physical, powerful and abrasive 35-year-old will likely start at eight in Dublin on Saturday, as will Jack Conan for the home side.
The Ireland international is under no illusions as to the challenge he faces against his opposite number.
“Yeah, obviously he’s got a wealth of experience,” Conan said this week.
“Incredible talent, an All Black with numerous amount of caps. We know how tough he’s going to be if he plays. He’s a very physical back-row and he’s someone I’ve admired for a long time as a number eight or when he played six for the All Blacks as well. He’s going to add something different to their back row but even if he doesn’t play, we know the threats that they’re going to have so we’re going to have to be on the money.”
Despite being 35-years-old and in the latter stages of his career, Kaino looks as good as ever with his immense work rate showing no signs of slowing down.
“I can only imagine he looks after himself incredibly well. You can see he’s in good shape and he’s been rolled out every weekend as well.
“I think for anyone who is at that point in their career, just to make sure they keep on playing and keep on going is probably the secret to it. He’s as physical as ever, you can see him dominating the gain line when he carries or if he’s in defence. It’s going to be a big ask.”
A big ask against Kaino and a big ask against Toulouse, Saturday’s encounter should certainly be one to remember.