Hail aristocrats of Europe (and we don’t mean Toulouse)

Leinster fly out for Toulouse this morning fuelled by a stunning declaration of intent against Wasps eight days ago and, you would imagine, in the hope that they can jettison some of the hyperbole that has enveloped them along the way.

Hail aristocrats of Europe (and we don’t mean Toulouse)

By Brendan O'Brien

Leinster fly out for Toulouse this morning fuelled by a stunning declaration of intent against Wasps eight days ago and, you would imagine, in the hope that they can jettison some of the hyperbole that has enveloped them along the way.

That 52-3 defeat of the English Premiership side prompted oohs and aahs and more than the odd gulp around the continent. Lawrence Dallaglio outdid every other plaudit by comparing aspects of their game to those of the All Blacks.

“Things can escalate quickly,” said the laconic Leo Cullen yesterday.

They sure can. Everyone knew Leinster were good but their elevation into the pantheon of the great European club teams has been all but rubber-stamped despite the bald fact that this generation have won just the one European Cup as of yet.

Cullen has been eager to point out the favourable cards that the reigning champions were dealt last weekend: the loss of players such as Nathan Hughes and Joe Launchbury to Wasps through injury and that of Lima Sopoaga via the sin bin near half-time.

“So, there were a lot of things that fell our way, the yellow card etc,” said the head coach. “We just need to crack on. There’s no-one getting too excited here, I don’t think. We’re keen just to improve, keep getting better and better. There’s huge scope for us to get better.

“One thing we talked about this week is (that) doing it in the RDS is a totally different challenge to doing it away in France against a team that is going to be highly motivated off the back of a win away last week. If Toulouse win the game they are out in front in the pool.”

There’s more than a hint of truth in all that but Cullen punctured holes in the hose he was using to dampen down all that giddiness by admitting that the Wasps win had been recorded despite a number of “sloppy” things and that there was “huge scope” for improvement.

Much like Leinster’s recent record in France, maybe.

Their nine-point defeat of Montpellier at the Altrad Stadium last January was their first Champions Cup win in the country in six attempts and Toulouse are playing their first home game in the tournament since failing to qualify for the competition last year.

It is a game that is being described in the Pink City as a ‘clash of titans’, the locals no doubt eager to do everything in their power to prevent the province from breaking the tie between them at the top of the continental roll of honour with four titles apiece.

Their ability to do just that has been compromised by the suspensions for No.8 Jerome Kaino and loosehead Lucas Pontud – both of which are to be appealed – on the back of incidents at The Rec last week where Freddie Burns gifted them victory.

“They’re probably starting off again, said Cullen of the club. “They’re going back to their traditional roots with a lot of young players, with that international top-end experience as well. They have some very exciting talent, if you think (Romain) Ntamack and how dangerous he’s looked in his involvements.

“(Thomas) Ramos as well, as I said, (and Cheslin) Kolbe. I know Kaino is out at the moment but you think of Charlie Faumuina, (Maxime) Medard has been around for a hell of a long time, (Yoann) Huget on the bench.

“So they have loads of experience and they’ve got that mix of the young exciting talent as well.”

Cullen, as expected, has largely left well enough alone this week.

The one change is injury-enforced with Rob Kearney’s quad problem prompting a shift to full-back for Jordan Larmour and a berth on the vacated wing for Joe Tomane.

It will be the Australian’s first European start on the back of what has been an underwhelming first few months with the club since his arrival from Montpellier. Such opportunities are not to be passed on, as Rhys Ruddock knows all to well.

Captain for the interpro derby against Munster at the start of the month, the back row didn’t even make the bench for the follow-up operation against Wasps. It was a bracing example of the strength in depth available to the club.

“Obviously I was hugely disappointed,” said Ruddock. “That’s the challenge because everyone here wants to play, and to play in the big games, and you’ve got as many if not more guys who aren’t going to be involved than those who get the opportunity.

“That’s the way anyone feels when they don’t get selected and it’s really tough. But if we’re true to all the things that we say we stand for then the team comes first and you just have to pick yourself up and do the best you can to prepare the team for the weekend.”

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