By Brendan O'Brien
It can’t be easy to return to terra firma after an eight-try demolition job on Europe’s opening weekend, but thoughts of a follow-up expedition to Toulouse should certainly help keep Leinster’s feet on the ground.
John Fogarty certainly thinks so. The Leinster forwards coach was starting hooker when the province last visited the city eight years ago.
The Irish side were defending champions then too, but would be relieved of their title at the semi-final stage by the French aristocrats.
It was a trip with few positive memories. Jonathan Sexton sat it out with a broken jaw and the image that summed up the disappointment was that of a distraught Cian Healy sitting face down on the bench with a towel over his head after being called ashore in the first half.
“I have nightmares of that game,” said Fogarty. “Our scrum got destroyed in that match. When you go over there, it is almost an attack on the senses. There’s an atmosphere. There’s a history. There’s so much about Toulouse that you have to respect. We understand that.
“They’ve had a good start in the Top 14 and they’ve had an away win against Bath. They are well coached. They’ve got some very good players and are well-organised and they’ve got an away win. They are going to be confident. They’ve got world-class players and huge size in their pack and they’ve got backs that can catch you. They can rumble, rumble, rumble, and, bang, they can break out and catch you. For me, there are lots of similarities to the challenge. It is the same.”
Similar but different may be more accurate.
Toulouse clearly aren’t the force of old, though they have begun to move in the right direction again after a few painful seasons on the domestic and European fronts. Their 22-20 win away to Bath last Saturday tees them, and this game, up nicely.
Leinster have a few injury concerns before they fly. Dan Leavy (calf), Rob Kearney (quad) and Cian Healy (knee) are all being kept under observation, but Jamison Gibson-Park has recovered after rolling his ankle, which kept him sidelined for the win over Wasps.
The main concerns are mental more than physical, with Fogarty wondering aloud yesterday if the Leinster players will still be patting themselves on the back for their 52-3 win last Friday, or if they have already turned the page.
Toulouse sit alongsideLeinster at the head of the European Cup roll of honour with four titles, but it is eight years since their last and the perception is that French clubs in general still lag behind the provinces in terms of basics, such as physical conditioning.
Fogarty didn’t buy into that, preferring instead to big up the game intelligence of the Toulouse players, the extra edge playing at home brings and the sheer size and power of forwards such as Jerome Kaino and a few other southern hemisphere imports.
“Yeah, he’s world-class,” Fogarty said of Kaino, a two-time World Cup winner. “He is a World Cup-winning player who is very, very competitive. He’s playing hard. You can see off the ball, when you’re watching him, how much it means to him in his reactions. When they get a turnover or when the team goes well, he’s emotional. He’s bought into what they do and he’s playing with passion and emotion. He looks like he’s right on it.
"There’s [Joe] Tekori, how combative he is. He is a huge handful. We played against him a number of years ago when he played for Castres and we came undone. That intensity they can bring to the game is something that has to be dealt with.
“For us, now, our mindset is the first thing that needs to be checked.”