Rugby Union

Leo Cullen: Leinster set for tough Toulon challenge

Leinster's Devin Toner lifts the winners' trophy after the Guinness PRO14 final victory over Munster at the RDS Arena in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday March 27, 2021. Picture by Donall Farmer/PA Wire.

Fresh from winning another Guinness PRO14 title on Saturday, Leinster prepare to take on three-time European champions Toulon in the Heineken Champions Cup tonight at the RDS in Dublin.

Leinster may be on a high after the Munster scalp last weekend but coach Leo Cullen knows it will be be a difficult task against a well-balanced Toulon side who boast a 4-0 head-to-head record.

"The French league is lots of big-name stars going up against each other every week, so it's a very competitive competition.

"Toulon are one of the big teams and have been one of the big-spending teams of the last 10 or 12 years, and had a lot of success off the back of that as well.

"Now they probably have a bit of a balance really between some big-name stars with some good young players coming through, Cullen told RTE Sport yesterday.

"So for our guys, it's making sure that they understand the threats that are there, but also trying to improve upon our own performance from last week.

"So we'll see how that goes, it's always a bit of a challenge.''

Captain Johnny Sexton only played five minutes of the 16-6 win over Munster but has recovered in time to start while James Lowe is back for a knockout tie which pits two European heavyweights against each other.

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster added: "It's a Friday game, we're first up so it's a short week for us.

"It's a massive game, a huge game. We're very respectful of Toulon, three-time European champions, and we need to make sure we are at our best."

The winner of Leinster-Toulon will visit Exeter or Lyon in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, George Skivington is well aware Gloucester will face a "star-studded team" in the shape of La Rochelle in the Heineken Champions Cup tonight.

The Gallagher Premiership outfit host the Top 14 side at Kingsholm for a place in the last eight of the competition with the odds stacked against them.

It has been a difficult first campaign for Skivington in the head coach role, with injuries and unavailability contributing to Gloucester sitting 11th in their domestic league.

A round-of-16 tie in the European Cup offers the West Country club a welcome break from Premiership rugby, but they have already suffered a heavy 55-10 loss to Lyon in the competition this season before they bounced back to beat Munster by a 38-34 score a week later in December.

"They use their strengths really well, they have worked out who can do what and they do it really well," Skivington said of La Rochelle.

"It is a pretty star-studded team and they seem very well coached from the games I have seen."

Former Ireland fly-half Ronan O'Gara is in charge of the French club, who boast a number of international players including Arthur Retiere and ex-Saracens ace Will Skelton.

Currently second in the Pro 14, La Rochelle won at Edinburgh in December before the structure of the European Champions Cup was adjusted due to the coronavirus pandemic and the pool stage was scrapped.

The winners of Friday's tie will have a home game with Scarlets or Sale in the quarter-finals and Skivington was unsure who this weekend's opponents could be likened to in the Premiership.

He added: "They have characters like Will Skelton who is a seriously big man which we saw when he played for Sarries. He can destroy mauls on his own so from that point of view I'm not sure who you would compare them to.

"They have an efficient pack and an extremely exciting back line. What they do and the processes they have they are very efficient in, so there's a reason they are where they are in the French league."

Gloucester secured a 34-18 win over Exeter last weekend and make only one change, with Chris Harris back following Scotland duty while England internationals Jonny May and Willi Heinz start again alongside Six Nations winner Louis Rees-Zammit.

 

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