Leinster are just a few hours away from their crucial Heineken Champions Cup Round 5 clash against fellow four-time winners Toulouse.
With preparations hampered throughout the week as many of Leinster’s frontline players have come out of contention due to injury, the task of beating the French side has become all that more difficult for Leo Cullen and his team.
Leinster are without the likes of Rob Kearney, James Lowe (suspension), Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Devin Toner and Dan Leavy for this afternoon’s 1pm kick-off in addition to longer-term absentees Fergus McFadden, Sean O’Brien and Joe Tomane – former coach with the province, Matt Williams, believes that they are “really damaged” due to the number of high-profile absentees.
“Very worried [if I was a Leinster supporter],” Williams told Pundit Arena.
“It’s going to be a massive test for Leinster. Their policy of blooding guys and giving young guys time – if they get through tomorrow it’s going to be because of that policy in the past. That backline – Kearney, Henshaw, Sexton – Toner, all played on the team that beat New Zealand. World Player Of The Year and a British and Irish Lion…you can’t say they’re not damaged there, they’re really, really damaged by that.”
Leinster have named a back-three of Jordan Larmour, Dave Kearney and Adam Byrne who will no doubt be in for a busy afternoon as they look to negate the influence of Maxime Medard, Cheslin Kolbe and Yoann Huget.
This devastating Toulouse back-three would cause damage to any team and Williams believes that Larmour could be in for a difficult time due to him “not believing in himself as a fullback”.
“Jordan at fullback who I’m a big supporter of, I think will grow to become not a good player but possibly a great player, as long as he can avoid injuries, but he’s out of position by a metre or a metre and a half constantly as a fullback.
‘He just doesn’t believe in himself at full back at the moment and Toulouse picked that last time – I thought he cost Leinster massively in the last game. I feel sorry for the young man but he was just a metre out of position in defence – Toulouse put in a short kicking game especially in the second half and they got big rewards from it. I thought he should have stopped the first try against Toulouse, he just got sidestepped, you never get sidestepped as a fullback – you keep the ball carrier between you and the sideline.”
In terms of how Leinster go about securing a win this afternoon, Williams believes that they must learn their lessons from the Stade Ernest-Wallon as to not get sucked into the game that the French side like to play.
“They don’t want to get sucked into playing the Toulouse game. They don’t want to get sucked in and play Barbarian rugby. There’s a couple of things that Leinster didn’t do when they were in Toulouse. First one was territory, Leinster were trying to run the ball from everywhere. They didn’t look to kick and kick for touch. Kick long and get the ball to go out. They got shut down by a charging Toulouse defence, exactly what Ireland did to New Zealand, Toulouse did to Leinster.
“Their number three defender and number four defender sprinted up on the Leinster forwards as they got the ball off the nine and they got caught behind the gain line time and time again. They could get no go-forward. Leinster have to find a way to get some go-forward with their forward runners.”
With Sexton one of the biggest of withdrawals from the matchday squad, a lot of attention will now be focussed on Ross Byrne, even more so due to Joey Carbery’s man-of-the-match performance for Munster last night.
“One of the big winners out of Joey Carbery going to Munster is Ross Byrne. I think he’s played really, really well this season. He’s not Joey Carbery, he’s not Johnny Sexton but he is very solid, dependable hard-working 10.
“I think he’s played much better than people have given him credit for. He’s not flashy, he’s no sprinter but he as a 10 has had very solid performances when he’s come in.”
You can watch Leinster v Toulouse live on Virgin Media One – kick-off 1 pm.
Virgin Media One on Friday announced live coverage of Munster’s decisive final Pool 2 Heineken Champions Cup fixture against Exeter Chiefs in Thomond Park on Saturday January 19th, in addition to this weekend’s epic clash between Leinster and Toulouse.
Live Heineken Champions Cup rugby returns to free-to-air television on Virgin Media One tomorrow, Saturday, January 12that 12.30pm when European champions Leinster take on four-time winners Toulouse in a mouth-watering tie at the RDS. The French giants defeated Leinster when the sides met in October – but victory in Dublin will put Leo Cullen’s men on course for a place in the quarter-finals.
Leinster v Toulouse live on Virgin Media One, this Saturday 12th January at 12.30pm.
Heineken Champions Cup Rugby Highlights will air on Virgin Media One on Saturday 12th January at 10.30pm.
Munster v Exeter Chiefs live on Virgin Media One, Saturday 19th January at 5.00pm=
Heineken Champions Cup Rugby Highlights will air on Virgin Media One on Sunday 20th January at 10.10pm.