Leinster will have to end reigning champions Toulon’s ten-match winning streak at home in Europe if they are to reach the Heineken Cup semi-finals for the fifth time in six seasons.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Sunday, April 6
TOULON v LEINSTER, Stade Félix Mayol, 5.30pm local time/4.30pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 3 HD/France 2/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face Toulon in Sunday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final at the Stade Félix Mayol has been named.
There are four personnel changes to the team that faced Munster last weekend with a welcome return to fitness for players in the starting line-up and on the bench.
There are two changes in the pack with Cian Healy and Rhys Ruddock back from ankle and calf injuries respectively.
Healy lines out for the 125th time in Leinster colours as the Clontarf clubman makes a first start since the Six Nations win in Paris three weeks ago. Fellow Ireland internationals Richardt Strauss and Mike Ross complete the front row.
Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy are once again the second row combination with the experienced Leo Cullen held in reserve.
The fit-again Ruddock returns in place of Kevin McLaughlin, with Shane Jennings and captain Jamie Heaslip completing the back row.
There are two alterations in the backs as well with Dave Kearney shaking off a knock received in training last week. He resumes on the left wing at the expense of Luke Fitzgerald.
Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney complete the back-three. Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll continue their record-breaking centre partnership.
The final change is in the half-backs with Jimmy Gopperth selected at out-half in place of Ian Madigan, with Eoin Reddan, who wins his 99th cap on Sunday, continuing in the number 9 jersey.
Head coach Matt O’Connor explained some of the decisions and admitted that the selection process had not been easy.
“We have trained really well all week. A full squad and everyone at full tilt is not something we have had at our disposal in quite a while,” he admitted.
“That creates challenges for us as a coaching group, but the players have brought a great intensity to the paddock all week and each and every one of them has put their hands up.
“There are disappointed blokes left behind, but we also have a 23 that we believe are more than capable of delivering a performance.
“This is a huge battle and we are under no illusions. Going down to the Stade Félix Mayol is not for the faint-hearted. We have huge respect for what Toulon bring to the contest.
“They are the current Heineken Cup champions and rightly favourites. But we are ready for the battle. We have a fit squad that are relishing the enormity of the challenge that we face.”
Meanwhile, England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson will captain Toulon as they face Leinster for the first time in the Heineken Cup.
Wilkinson’s influence endures – he is the top points scorer in this season’s tournament (73 points – and his tactical nous along with that of Matt Giteau marries well with the physical punch of Mathieu Bastareaud and a bruising pack.
Injured duo Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams are notable absentees up front, but Bernard Laporte can still call on forwards of the calibre of tighthead prop Carl Hayman and a classy back row combination of Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe and Steffon Armitage.
Wilkinson, who was rested for the 32-28 league win over Toulouse, returns at out-half in place of Frederic Michalak with Giteau replacing Maxime Mermoz in the centre.
The starting pack is unchanged, while experienced internationals Martin Castrogiovanni and Bryan Habana (who have 200 Test caps between them) will be hoping to have an impact off the bench.
TOULON: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, David Smith; Jonny Wilkinson (capt), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman, Danie Rossouw, Jocelino Suta, Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage.
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Florian Fresia, Martin Castrogiovanni, Virgile Bruni, Bryan Habana, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Konstantine Mikautadze.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Dave Kearney; Jimmy Gopperth, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Devin Toner, Mike McCarthy, Rhys Ruddock, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Martin Moore, Leo Cullen, Jordi Murphy, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Greg Garner, Luke Pearce (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Toulon to win: 1/2; Draw: 25/1; Leinster to win: 7/4
Pre-Match Quotes: Matt O’Connor (Leinster) – “If I think back to the game last year (when O’Connor was in charge of Leicester Tigers against Toulon), there were two yellow cards for perceived deliberate knock-ons that cost us the game.
“You have got to make sure that you’re presenting good pictures to the officials the whole time because you can’t play them for 60 minutes with 14 blokes or you will lose.
“It was an incredibly tight game of footie on very small margins. It is about making sure you get everything right – you manage those situations you don’t have control of to wrestle the momentum back and give yourself a fighting chance.
“I think what Leinster have demonstrated, over a long period of time, certainly this year, in a really tough pool, our away form has been brilliant.
“We’re not intimated by being away to Toulon in the quarter-final. We are really looking forward to seeing where we end up at the end of the day.
“Toulon’s motives have been questioned at different stages but you can’t win in this competition if their changing room isn’t solid.
“You can’t win this competition if blokes aren’t doing it for the right reasons. We’re under no illusions how good we have to be.”
Bernard Laporte (Toulon) – “Leinster are a top international level team as 60% of the Irish side which won this year’s Six Nations were from the province, with 14 players in the Ireland 23.
“Leinster have lots of very strong players – they’ve won three Heineken Cups and are almost always in the last-four, so it’s very exciting to play a team like that. That’s why this competition is always exciting.
“We have never played them but this is only our third season in the Heineken Cup so there are a lot of teams that we are yet to play.
“If you lose field position, it’s very hard to get it back because they know what to do to keep going forward. They know when and how to kick the ball and, once they’re ahead on the scoreboard, it’s very hard to come back.”
“Brian (O’Driscoll) is a player for whom I have a lot of admiration because we started almost at the same time, him as a player and me as a coach.
“He started against me in Paris by scoring three tries, which isn’t a good memory for me! And he ended his international career by wining once more at the Stade de France.
“He’s one of the most talented centre of all times. He’s a legendary player, like Jonny (Wilkinson), (Richie) McCaw or (Dan) Carter. And he remains a tremendous player and a great competitor. I have a lot of respect for him.
“It would be perfect end for him in the Mayol, though – Cardiff, where the final will be held, he’s played there 20 times!”
Current Form – Toulon – (Top 14 Championship): Drew 22-22 away to Montpellier; Won 41-14 at home to Racing Metro 92; Lost 28-26 away to Grenoble; Won 62-12 at home to Brive; Won 24-13 away to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 22-15 away to Castres Olympique; Won 18-12 at home to Bayonne; Lost 25-22 away to Oyonnax; Won 25-19 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Heineken Cup): Won 51-28 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 19-15 away to Cardiff Blues; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 13-12 away to Toulouse; Won 37-17 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 15-9 at home to Perpignan; Lost 23-0 away to Stade Francais; (Heineken Cup): Won 14-9 away to Exeter Chiefs; Won 32-20 at home to Exeter Chiefs; (Top 14 Championship): Won 43-10 at home to Montpellier; Lost 14-3 away to Racing Metro 92; Lost 22-21 at home to Grenoble; (Heineken Cup): Won 43-20 at home to Cardiff Blues; Won 15-8 away to Glasgow Warriors; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 23-10 away to Brive; Won 33-20 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 19-13 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 15-9 away to Bayonne; Won 64-10 at home to Oyonnax; Lost 22-16 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 32-28 at home to Toulouse
Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-19 away to the Scarlets; Drew 29-29 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 12-6 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 34-20 at home to the Cardiff Blues; Lost 19-15 away to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-9 away to the Ospreys; Won 19-7 at home to Castres Olympique; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 16-13 at home to Connacht; Won 23-19 away to Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 21-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 36-19 at home to the Scarlets; (Heineken Cup): Won 40-7 away to Northampton Saints; Lost 18-9 at home to Northampton Saints; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 11-6 away to Edinburgh; Won 19-6 at home to Ulster; Won 16-8 away to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 29-22 away to Castres Olympique; Won 36-3 at home to the Ospreys; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 31-8 away to Zebre; Won 31-19 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 34-22 away to Cardiff Blues; Won 28-25 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 27-0 at home to Zebre; Won 22-18 at home to Munster
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Toulon – Points: Jonny Wilkinson 73; Tries: David Smith 3; Leinster – Points: Jimmy Gopperth 60; Tries: Luke Fitzgerald 3
Previous European Meetings: 0
Match Facts & Figures –
– Toulon had the best discipline in the pool stages, conceding fewer penalties/free-kicks than any other side (49)
– Jonny Wilkinson ended the pool stages as the top points scorer (73), landing seven conversions and 17 penalties, as well as crossing for a try and slotting a drop goal
– Toulon are yet to lose at home in the Heineken Cup, winning all 10 of their games so far, averaging 38 points scored
– The last four occasions that Leinster have reached the quarter-finals they have gone on to make the semi-finals
Heineken Cup Records:
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals