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Leinster Rugby vs RC Toulon
Champions Cup Last 16
RDS Arena, Dublin
Friday, 2nd April 2021, 17:30

TV: Live on BT Sports

That was enjoyable!

It wasn't a perfect performance by any stretch of the imagination but I think both the Leinster players and fans enjoyed that victorious Pro14 final a lot more than the previous three wins over Scarlets, Glasgow and Ulster. Beating Munster at the RDS never goes out of style and it made it all the sweeter to watch the way Leinster quickly drowned their pre-match optimism with an utterly dominant performance. The scandal of the game was that Leinster only won by ten points, when a margin north of twenty would have been a much fairer reflection.

Leinster were happy to win a scrappy game in tough conditions but they will be annoyed at the amount of try scoring chances they left behind them, especially in the first half. True, Munster's defence scrambled well at times to hold up a couple of them, but Leinster's passing skills let them down badly and they know such profligacy will surely cost them if they have any ambitions to win the Champions Cup.

Only six days after the final Leinster are at the RDS for a historic fixture, the first ever "last 16" knock-out match in the history of the competition. This format was hastily cobbled together after the second half of the pool matches were abandoned in January. The French teams were (correctly) about to pull out of the tournament over safety fears with the Covid situation and with refixing the cancelled fixtures deemed impossible, the last 16 concept was decided upon as it didn't require any extra playing weekends. Thankfully it means we don't have to suffer two-legged quarter-finals and instead we have an old-school cup competition.

They take on Toulon, a team Leinster have a 100% record against in European Cup history: 4 meeting, 4 defeats for Leinster. Admittedly all the defeats came around the period where Toulon dominated Europe becoming the first side to win three trophies in a row from 2013-2015. They also coincided with Matt O'Connor's two years in charge and Leo Cullen's first difficult season when they won only one pool game in their group. Owner Mourad Boudjellal bankrolled their success with a plethora of big money signings of international superstars like Jonny WIlkinson, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha and Juan Smith.

However the controversial Boudjellal tired of the constant scrapes with the French rugby authorities and the massive financial commitment and he stepped away from the club a couple of years ago. They have been in a state of general decline over the last five years and they haven't won anything since their last European Cup in 2015. While the star-studded lineups are now gone, they still have plenty of fine players though including French captain Charles Ollivon and the great Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth as well as some exciting young French talent.

Former Toulouse prop Patrick Collazo took over as coach in 2018 but they've been muddling along since then. He has named a team with a predictably massive pack with Ollivon and Etzebeth selected along with the likes of beefy French internationals Christopher Tolofua, Romain Taofifenua and Swan Rebbadj plus the Italian great that is Sergio Parisse. With Anthony Belleau and Louis Carbonel both injured, Duncan Paia'aua is selected at out-half and he partners skipper Baptiste Serin. Rudi Wulf and Gabin Villiere are probably the pick of a less familiar set of outside backs that is missing the suspended Ma'a Nonu after his red card last week when they were hammered by Lyon.

For Leinster there are four changes to the starting team from last week. Johnny Sexton and Ross Byrne are both fit to be selected and Sexton reclaims the number 10 jersey from Byrne who reverts to the bench. The only other change to the backline sees James Lowe reclaim his spot on the left wing and he'll be looking to prove a point after an error ridden Six Nations campaign for Ireland. The other two changes see Tadhg Furlong and Ryan Baird come in to start in the front five. With Jamison Gibson-Park injured, Hugh O'Sullivan provides scrum-half cover this week.

Toulon will bring a big physical challenge up front but if Leinster can deal with that, and they're not too wrecked after last week, then they should be able to navigate their way safely into the next round.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

RC Toulon
Teams Hugo Keenan 15 Gervais Cordin
Jordan Larmour 14 Masivesi Dakuwaqa
Rory O'Loughlin 13 Rudi Wulf
Robbie Henshaw 12 Julien Heriteau
James Lowe 11 Gabin Villiere
Johnny Sexton (C)
10 Duncan Paia'aua
Luke McGrath 9 Baptiste Serin (C)

Cian Healy 1 Jean Baptiste Gros
Ronan Kelleher 2 Christopher Tolofua
Tadhg Furlong 3 Beka Gigashvili
Devin Toner 4 Eben Etzebeth
Ryan Baird 5 Romain Taofifenua
Rhys Ruddock 6 Swan Rebbadj
Josh van der Flier 7 Charles Ollivon
Jack Conan 8 Sergio Parisse

Replacements James Tracy 16 Bastien Soury
Ed Byrne 17 Sebastien Taofifenua
Andrew Porter 18 Emerick Setiano
Ross Molony 19 Raphael Lakafia
Scott Fardy20 Julien Ory
Hugh O'Sullivan 21 Frederick du Plessis
Ross Byrne 22 Anthony Meric
Dave Kearney 23 Simon Moretti

Not Considered
due to Injury
Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Dan Leavy,
Adam Byrne,
Max Deegan,
Tommy O'Brien,
Caelan Doris,
David Hawkshaw,
Jimmy O'Brien,
James Ryan,
Garry Ringrose,
Will Connors,
Scott Penny,
Jamison Gibson-Park

Brian Alainu'uese,
Anthony Belleau,
Jeremy Boyadjis,
Louis Carbonel,
Anthony Etrillard,
Facundo Isa,
Isaia Toeava,
Adrien Warion
Officials Referee: Matthew Carley (England),
Assistant referees: Chris Busby (Ireland), Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2021-04-01