leinsterfans.com: Supporting Leinster Rugby
skip to content

RC Toulon vs Leinster Rugby
European Rugby Champions Cup Semi Final
Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France,
Sunday, 19th Aptil 2015, 16:15 local time (15:15 IST)

It's a funny ole game rugby. Here we are - packing our bags for a weekend of sun and rugby in Marseille, the semi-final of the European Rugby Champions Cup no less, and we're still not happy. Truthfully, it doesn't take too much investigation to see why. This season will be one that most Leinsterfans will be happy to leave behind. It looks increasing likely that we will not make the knock-out stages of the Pro12 - something which we had begun to take for granted as we have always made the play-off stages since the introduction of the format, in fact we've played in every final. Our most recent outing, away to Dragons, will go down as an all-time low. Leading 22-8 at one point but ultimately losing, gave the 9th place team in the league their first double over us and left us further adrift from the top four teams.

But what about Europe? We are at this point the only Irish representative in European competition. Munster and Ulster failed to progress from their pools in the Champions Cup and Connacht went out to Gloucester in the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup. Leinster arguably had an easy pool but it was a close pool, undecided until the final matches. A home quarterfinal against Bath was probably the best outcome from the final day 'As it Stands' permutations, but confidence was not high as the fixture approached. Strangely however, for both myself and a citrus feline of my acquaintance, a strange calm descended a couple of days before the fixture - this is Leinster, this is what we do, of course we'll win...a feeling made all the more strange by the fact that even in our best days I've never been the most optimistic and confident spectator. In any case, this confidence persisted up to and almost throughout the game - only wobbling momentarily when Reddan's kick was charged down in the last few minutes.

So - to what do I owe this new calm rugby watching persona? Was it due to a poor game, a lack of exciting rugby in front of me - in fairness, when your team is playing a close game it doesn't usually take a high standard of rugby to get the heart beating that bit quicker - or could it have been that I had dug deep and found within me one last remaining shred of belief in this team, my team, Leinster.

It is this belief that I am holding onto now in the run-up to our semi-final meeting with Toulon. Belief in the face of being written off by what seems to be the whole rugby world. Toulon are a team that would strike fear into any opponents. A team that saw off both ourselves and Munster in this competition's predecessor last year to lift the cup for the second year running and complete the first half of a double that was completed when they defeated Castres to lift the Bouclier de Brennus. A team that currently lies top of the Top 14. Most importantly, they are a French team that takes their European rugby very seriously and would love nothing more than to be the first team to achieve three in a row. They are also, however, an ageing team with rumoured defensive weaknesses. At time of writing the teams have not been announced but Toulon supporters on the forum predict a team without the ball stealing Steffon Armitage and with Giteau playing 12. Despite being named in an extended 29 man squad Leigh Halfpenny may also remain an injury doubt. Wasps, while ultimately beaten by Toulon in the quarter final, showed that there is weakness in this side, that this is a beatable side. Could Leinster be the team to do that?

As I found that shred of belief still within me I still believe that the spark of Leinster is still burning within these players - they can do this. Matt O'Connor needs to unshackle these players and let them loose - there is nothing to lose. There is no room for conservative unimaginative rugby. This is not the team that capitulated to the Dragons - there will be wholesale changes. Whilst I strongly disagree with the recent labelling of Leinsterfans as spoilt I do think that we have raised expectations, amongst them the expectation that losing our big players will not see a big drop in standards. Seamless interchange amongst an extended squad is not the norm in rugby, as so many things we had come to expect under Joe Schmidt are not. We will see a rise in standards with the return of the rest of our internationals. We can expect to see senior players such as Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney return, players that know how to win big games, players that know how to topple European giants and how to be European giants. I'm not going to Marseille for the craic. I've been there, done the tour on the little train and explored the Notre Dame. I am going to support my team. I believe that my team can do this and with a hat tip to Blue Not Red Blood - Dear Matt, don't die wondering. Let our team play, send them out to give their all and fulfil what we know is their potential. And Leinsterfans, let's put all our criticism, frustration and doubts about this team aside for now, find that belief within and proclaim it - this is our team, our Leinster, we are 100% behind them. WE BELIEVE.

by Yvonne Kelly, © 2015-04-17