Belfast Telegraph

Eagle-eyed Niall Malone has Toulouse in his sights

By Michael Sadlier

Niall Malone tells an enlightening tale from his playing days which starkly illustrates how things have changed over the years.

The now Ulster performance analyst was a player with Leicester Tigers back in the 1990s and made the match day squad for their first European Cup final experience - in only the second year of the tournament's existence - as they met little-known French side Brive at Cardiff Arms Park in 1997.

A mighty Leicester, then comprising such notables as Martin Johnson, Dean Richards, Will Greenwood and Neil Back, had already seen off the first ever champions Toulouse in the semi-final and now reckoned they were home and hosed to lift the cup.

Instead the Tigers were thoroughly mauled 28-9 and, looking on from the bench, the memory of that day has stayed with the Ireland international as a case of how not to prepare for a game.

"We got hammered," Malone recalls. "We'd never heard of Brive. There was no analysis and we reckoned knowing a bit about one or two games would be enough.

"That was a huge mistake. We got cocky and got what we deserved."

It's all so very different now though and for tomorrow night's match, Malone has sifted through footage of 12 Toulouse games.

"I'm trying to give guidance to the players and coaches while also pointing out a few things I think we can exploit," the 44-year-old explains of his role.

The extensive research for this first back-to-back meeting has highlighted a few weaknesses in the visitors' play.

"They off-load out of virtually every single collision so we're hoping to exploit that," he said.

"They just seem to be trying to score from everywhere and we actually feel that they can play like 15 individuals.

"We're hoping our team structure can outmanoeuvre their individual brilliance," Malone adds.

All a different world from the time he encountered Brive.

Belfast Telegraph

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