Hines: early errors will be punished

LEINSTER lock Nathan Hines has warned that the province’s hopes of retaining their Heineken Cup title will evaporate if they repeat their awful start against Clermont Auvergne in Toulouse on Saturday.

The champions found themselves 10-0 down after the first quarter of their last-eight tie against Les Jaunards three weeks ago before a two-try burst from Jamie Heaslip turned matters on their head.

Even then, Leinster were fortunate to squeeze through with a one-point victory – courtesy of Brock James’ nightmare with the boot – but a similar storyline on Saturday will hardly result in such a favourable result for the Irish visitors.

As is the case with the French national team, Toulouse have engineered a reputation for being able to put a game to bed on the back of just one moment’s weakness, indecision or lack of concentration.

“I think we were caught out a little bit in the first couple of minutes against Clermont,” agreed Hines. “I don’t think we were ready or prepared enough for what happened. That’s good for us that we’ve had that exposure to that style of rugby and, hopefully, we won’t get caught on the hop again.

“Toulouse don’t play the exact same style as Clermont,” he added. “The onus for us is to be dominant in the contact and make sure we play at the tempo that we want to play and in the positions on the field where we want to play.

“It’s about being dominant in the tackle and imposing ourselves on Toulouse.”

Intimidating as the French side can be at home, that reputation can be a double-edged sword. The longer Leinster can stay with their hosts, or stay in front, the more pressure is likely to mount on Guy Noves’ side.

“It’s always difficult for a rugby team in France, especially one like Toulouse. You do feel a lot of pressure from the community. I remember when I was playing with Perpignan, we’d just beaten Bourgoin and we had Toulouse the following week but, already, the supporters were talking of winning the next week.

“So, they don’t give you much breathing space. There’s always a bit of pressure. I don’t know how much pressure they’re under at the moment. They’re through to the latter stages of the Top 14. They have Castres at home (next) but they’ll be putting everything they have into this weekend.”

Noves has already stated that Europe is the club’s number one priority this season but, as Hines points out, Toulouse possess the size of squad and type of talent that allows them pursue success on both fronts.

Twelve of Michael Cheika’s squad have played for the province in Toulouse before – most of them in the 33-6 group stage defeat in 2008 – but Hines is most familiar with the terrain after four years at Perpignan.

“I never played them at Le Stadium. We played them at Stade Ernest Wallon. The only time I played there was in the quarter-final with Edinburgh and we got beaten pretty comprehensively in 2004. I don’t think it matters either way which stadium they play in. The atmosphere is always intense. They have passionate supporters. I never won there with Perpignan but we never lost at home to them either so it was pretty much even.”

The same can’t be said for the odds. Most bookmakers have listed Leinster as close to 2/1 outsiders, which is understandable given the venue, the injury situations and recent form.

Since their lucky win over Clermont Auvergne, Leinster have recorded an unimpressive win over the Ospreys and lost convincingly in Connacht before fielding a shadow side for the loss in Glasgow. The game at the Sportsground was a disappointment given the strength of the side Cheika named and the fact that a win there would have guaranteed a home berth in the Magners League semi-finals.

“It’s something that we’ve already got over and got on with,” said Hines.

“We’re not even looking at that anymore. We’re just looking at this weekend.

“The boys know they’re better than that. Connacht just took their chances when they got them.

“We looked at it, forgot about it and moved on to putting all our efforts into this weekend.”

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