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PREVIEW: Nothing but our best will do – O’Connor

Tuesday 14th April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Après avoir régné sur l'Europe à Dublin et Cardiff

Après avoir régné sur l'Europe à Dublin et Cardiff

Leinster Rugby head coach Matt O’Connor admits his side will have to be at their best if they are to upset reigning European Cup holders RC Toulon in Marseille.

The French side are seeking to be crowned kings of European club rugby for an unprecedented third-straight season having won the last two finals in Dublin and Cardiff. Leinster are chasing a fourth title, which would move them level with Toulouse as the most successful side in the history of continental club competition.

But O’Connor knows his squad need to improve on their recent form in the Guinness Pro12, in which they are without a win in their last-four fixtures.

“The fact is we have got to go there and perform very close to our potential to beat Toulon. The lads understand that,” said O'Connor.

“It is a huge challenge for us, they have world class blokes in every position. We need to come up with a plan to go there and get a result.”

Leinster have shown themselves more than capable of overcoming the odds by winning knock-out games on the road in France, picking up a semi-final win at Clermont Auvergne in 2012 and a famous quarter-final triumph against Toulouse in 2006. But they were on the wrong end of the scoreline when they last faced Toulon at the quarter-final stage 12 months ago, losing 21-15 at Stade Felix-Mayol.

“We are massively excited to be going down to play a semi-final. Everyone outside and supporters might be frustrated we are not fulfilling our potential, but it is a difficult thing to do sometimes,” said full-back Rob Kearney.

“We do a huge amount of review work on games. We are unbelievably critical of ourselves and are pin-pointing the things we need to improve on.

“We are not oblivious to the fact there is still a huge amount of things we need to improve on, but we are still very excited by the opportunities available to us.”

Toulon, meanwhile, warmed up for the last four clash with a Top 14 victory over Grenoble, although full-back Leigh Halfpenny picked up a shoulder injury which has made him a doubt for this Sunday’s game.

But back-rower Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe believes the French champions are well set, saying: “Even though we were under pressure against Grenoble, we remained united and that's the most important thing.

“Everything was there within the side, there was real spirit and commitment and it's nice to enjoy that sort of dynamic when you are building up for an important semi-final.”

Match Facts

  • These sides first met in year’s Quarter-final with Toulon becoming the first team since 2010 to beat Leinster in a European knockout game.
  • Excluding their meeting last year, these sides combined have lost just two of their last 19 knockout games in the Champions Cup.
  • These two sides have won five of the last six Champions Cups between them, including the last four in a row.
  • Should they win this match, Toulon will join London Irish (W1, D1) as the only two sides in the Champions Cup to play Leinster more than once without defeat; should Toulon win they would be the only team to play the Irish province more than once while maintaining a 100% winning record.
  • Leinster have won three of their last four semi-finals in the Champions Cup, however Toulon have won gone on to reach the final on the two occasions on which they have reached the last four.
  • Only Treviso (4.8) have averaged fewer offloads than Leinster this season (5.3), while Toulon have made the most (17.7 per game).
  • Leinster have maintained the best ruck success rate (97%) in the competition, though Toulon have forced the worst ruck success rate (89%) from their opponents.
  • Opponents of Toulon have won a higher proportion of lineouts (92%) than against any other side this season.
  • Toulon have scored nine more tries (13) than Leinster (4) in the first (0-20 mins) and third quarter (40-60 mins) of matches combined this season.
  • Leigh Halfpenny has a better goal-kicking success rate (29/35 – 83%) than any other player to kick 20+ successful goals this season, while Ian Madigan has managed the most successful kicks (36/46 – 78%).

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REPORT: Habana sends Toulon into third final

Sunday 19th April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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RC Toulon are through to a third successive European Cup final and will face ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium. - 19/04/2015 18:22

RC Toulon are through to a third successive European Cup final and will face ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium. - 19/04/2015 18:22

RC Toulon are through to a third successive European Cup final and will face ASM Clermont Auvergne at Twickenham Stadium.

But three-time champions Leinster Rugby took them all the way in Marseille – and into extra-time. There were no tries in regular time, which ended 12-12, and it took an interception try from Bryan Habana and 20 points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny to see Toulon through 25-20.

It was only the third time in 20 years that a semi-final had gone into extra-time, but Leinster put up such a strong fight that the French champions simply couldn’t shake them off. In fact, Leinster led 9-6 at half-way and looked the better side.

All the points in the 80 minutes came from the boots of Halfpenny and Ian Madigan and it was a similar theme in the second half. Halfpenny missed once, while Madigan hit the post once.

Jimmy Gopperth had a drop shot for glory three minutes from time and then Delon Armitage had a shot for goal from 55 metres with the last kick of the second half. Both missed and it ended 12-12 at the end of normal time.

The kickers kept hitting the mark as the score went to 15-15 in the first period of extra-time and then Halfpenny landed a 45 metre goal to make it 18-15. But then Ali Williams picked up a yellow card and the champions faced the next 10 minutes with only 14 players.

But cometh the hour, cometh the man! Sean O’Brien turned-over the ball on half way and the Leinster back line looked to move it quickly to the right. Madigan, who had been magnificent throughout, threw a long, cut out pass which the predatory Habana move in to intercept.

As soon as the Springboks speedster had caught the ball inches inside the Leinster half it was try time. Nobody got near him and Halfpenny’s conversion stretched the lead to 10 points.

Leinster could have thrown in the towel, but Jamie Heaslip roused his men for one final effort and even with Williams back on the field there was nothing Toulon could do to stop O’Brien driving over from a five metre line-out for a try with three minutes left on the clock.

Gopperth’s conversion hit the upright, the second Leinster kick to come back off a post, and Toulon were able to hang on for the victory.

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