Local lads give Blues Euro edge

Ian Madigan believes that pride in, and attachment to, their home province will prove to be the difference next Sunday when Leinster travel to take on Toulon’s European champions at the Stade Felix Mayo.

Local lads give Blues Euro edge

Munster will no doubt hope something similar.

It seemed only fitting that the Leinster pivot should beat the provincial drum on an evening when over 50,000 people filled the Aviva Stadium for what amounted to nothing more than an appetiser for the week to come.

Leinster and Munster will face opponents who, between them, boast annual budgets of just under €60m, with Toulon keen to eclipse their more storied colleagues down the coast by building on last May’s maiden European title.

Bernard Laporte has been able to assemble an unmatched selection of global rugby stars on the Cote D’Azur but the money thrown at players by owner Mourad Boudjellal has inevitably seen the collective tagged as mercenaries in the collective eye. It is hardly an observation devoid of fact.

The Toulonnais can call on players from 10 different countries and, while Leinster boast a roster containing 11 born outside of Ireland, the difference in emphasis between local and national can hardly be overstated.

Ten of the starting side which accounted for Munster at the Aviva two days ago hailed from Leinster. Another two ended up in Dublin from starting points in Munster while the other three have all been capped by Ireland.

Between them, Leinster and Munster used 46 players at the weekend, only half-a-dozen of whom are ineligible to wear the green during the Test window. This weekend marks a clear clash of cultures.

Toulon, by way of contrast, had more foreigners than Frenchmen on the field when they saw off Toulouse at home on Saturday. Seven different nationalities filled their first 15, with loosehead prop Xavier Chiocci the only local boy.

Chiocci aside, Frederic Michalak is the closest the fans there can claim as one of their own and he was born 470km away to the west — in Toulouse. As for Guy Noves’ side, six of those starters who lost in Toulon were foreigners.

It is no wonder Madigan adopted the Three Musketeers’ all for one motto.

“They’ve certainly got big names,” said the Dublin-born and bred out-half of Toulon. “But, we’ve plenty of internationals in our side as well. What we have over them is that we’re playing for the club we grew up in.

“You saw with both sides [Saturday night] what that means. You’re representing your club, where you grew up and where you come from. I would like to think that’s going to give us the edge next week.”

The Irish provinces have always found that to be the case.

Ninety-nine players represented Leinster and Munster in the five winning Heineken Cup final appearances stretching back to 2006 and four out of five of them have been Irish. Sprinkling some non-native gold dust among it has been the key.

Leinster may well change that this season.

Isa Nacewa has returned home to New Zealand, Richardt Strauss is a naturalised Irishman, Madigan has usurped Jimmy Gopperth for the 10 shirt and Zane Kirchner is making do with a place on the bench.

Draw up their best starting side now and every one of them would be available to Joe Schmidt this summer. So would the vast majority of the bench. Toulon, on the other hand, continue to represent the league of nations.

For Madigan, who was 14 when Jonny Wilkinson dropped the goal to win a World Cup for England, it will be the opportunity to test himself against the out-half who makes other out-halves weak at the knees.

“They are a star-studded side. Matt Giteau is a fantastic player as well. You do your scouting beforehand. You’ve got to go into the game knowing exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are. You can’t get too focused on the one-on-one battle.

“It’s more about how you control the game that’s most important.”

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