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RC Toulonnais v Leinster Rugby
European Champions Cup Pool 5
Stade Mayol, Toulon
Sunday, 13th December 2015, 15:15

Television: Live - BT Sports, Highlights TG4

After losing their first two pool matches Leinster are now is a position where they have to win their final four games to have any chance of progressing to the knock-out stages. That's a tough position to be in at the best of times but it gets even worse when you have to take on the current champions in back to back games. Toulon have been the champions of Europe for the past three seasons, buying their success with a dazzling array of big name imports.

Their form this season has been up and down and even they suffered during the World Cup. Because of the Paris attacks their first match against Bath was postponed and in their second match away to Wasps, they were thumped 32-6. They normally have one pool match per season where they stutter but they haven't lost two games in a row since 2011. They also responded well to the Wasps defeat by hammering Clermont in Clermont before thrashing Agen last week so Leinster have their work cut out for them.

Toulon are able to bring in Ma'a Nonu for his Champions Cup debut and he forms a simply massive centre combination with Mathieu Bastareaud. In the back three Delon Armitage is at full back with two quality finishers on the wing in the shape of Bryan Habana and Drew Mitchell. To accommodate Nonu, Matt Giteau is named at out-half with the French youngster Eric Escande named at scrum-half. The back row of Georgia's Mamuka Gorgodze, England's Steffon Armitage and South Africa's Duane Vermeulen speaks for itself. American international Samu Manoa is paired with Romain Taofifenua in a hugely physical second row. Florian Fresia, Guilhem Guirado and former England international Matt Stevens are an ordinary enough front row by the standards of the rest of the side, so Leinster might hope to target them in the scrum.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has made a notable selection by retaining young openside flanker Josh van der Flier in the back row alongside Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Heaslip. It's a big ask for van der Flier going up against the massively experienced Toulon back row but his form merits selection ahead of the more experienced Jordi Murphy. In the front row Mike Ross's experience gets him the nod alongside Cian Healy and Richardt Strauss. Ross will be delighted to have Mike McCarthy pushing behind him though as he returns to the second row alongside Devin Toner.

In the backs Johnny Sexton and Isaac Boss are selected at halfback and Sexton will need to be at his best for Leinster to have any chance. Ben Te'o and Luke Fitzgerald have shaken off fitness concerns to be selected in the centre and Rob Kearney is named at full back with Fergus McFadden and skipper Isa Nacewa on the wings.

Leinster have played Toulon twice in the last two seasons and lost both times. This time no one gives them a hope in hell and the bookies have Toulon at 10-1 on with a 15 point spread. Leinster will remember how everyone wrote them off last season too in the semi-finals and they came within a whisker of beating Toulon before losing in extra time. That day Toulon were, by their own admission, extremely complacent and it's doubtful they'll be as lax this time, particularly as they need to win this game to avoid falling further behind Wasps.

It's going to be very tough but if Leinster can show their true quality, particularly up front, then they have a chance.

Team Lineups

RC Toulonnais

Leinster Rugby
Teams Delon Armitage15 Rob Kearney
Bryan Habana14 Fergus McFadden
Mathieu Bastareaud13 Ben Te'o
Ma'a Nonu12 Luke Fitzgerald
Drew Mitchell11 Isa Nacewa (C)
Matt Giteau10 Johnny Sexton
Eric Escande9 Isaac Boss

Florian Fresia1 Cian Healy
Guilhem Guirado2 Richardt Strauss
Matt Stevens3 Mike Ross
Samu Manoa4 Devin Toner
Romain Taofifenua5 Mike McCarthy
Mamuka Gorgodze6 Rhys Ruddock
Steffon Armitage7 Josh van der Flier
Duane Vermeulen8 Jamie Heaslip

Replacements Anthony Etrillard16 Sean Cronin
Xavier Chiocci17 Jack McGrath
Levan Chilachava18 Marty Moore
Juan Smith19 Tom Denton
Tom Taylor20
Jordi Murphy
Maxime Mermoz21 Eoin Reddan
Anthony Meric22 Ian Madigan
Jocelino Suta23 Dave Kearney

Not Considered
Due to Injury
Leigh Halfpenny,
Paul O'Connell,
Frederic Michalak,
Sebastien Tillous-Borde

Jack Conan,
Edward Byrne,
Mick Kearney,
Sean O'Brien,
Hayden Triggs,
Luke McGrath,
Noel Reid
Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees:Gwyn Morris, Wayne Davies (both WRU) ,
Citing Commissioner: John Byett (England),
TMO: Derek Bevan (Wales)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-12-11