Leinster class destroyed by scary Toulon
TOULON 29 LEINSTER 14
They passed like ships in the night in Dublin last May, but docked in the port of Toulon there was no doubting who Europe's kingpins are now.
Leinster's reign over European rugby is definitively over, Toulon's destroyer blew them out of the water, and, if Munster needed bringing back down to earth as they basked in the glory of their win over Toulouse, they got it at the Stade Felix Mayol.
Rob Penney may have labelled the Blues the 'Six Nations champions', but one wonders what would happen if Mourad Boudjellall's soldiers of fortune were unleashed on the international game.
Here, on their own patch with the sun on their backs, they are the scariest thing this side of the equator; a brimming mix of power and panache, with wise old heads and ball-hungry destroyers who possess a mean streak to boot.
On the ground, Mathieu Bastareaud and Steffon Armitage wreaked havoc, while they ripped into Leinster's lineout from the off.
Before the game, Matt O'Connor talked about the 'marginal gains' needed to succeed at this impressive cauldron, but there was nothing marginal in this as Toulon won by two tries, from Xavier Chiocci and Drew Mitchell, and five penalty goals to a consolation Jordi Murphy try and three Jimmy Gopperth penalties.
The coach's two big selection calls backfired, with Gopperth looking undercooked after just eight minutes' rugby in 45 days and Richardt Strauss enduring a torrid evening as Ian Madigan and Sean Cronin looked on.
But the real concern for the Australian will be the gulf in class across the park.
Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy were tormented by Bastareaud again as the legend – and club captain Leo Cullen – departed the European scene with a whimper.
The coach said talk of this marking the end of an era was premature, but from high in the stands it looked like he has a bigger job on his hands than previously thought.
"It is a disappointing result, not so much to lose but the performance is disappointing," he said.
"We're a better side than that and we were second best today, but quarter-finals are quarter-finals and it's knock-out footie. If you're not very good, especially away from home, you won't get the result.
"I wouldn't read too much into it, I don't think it's a bigger issue than we underperformed today against a very good side."
It was Leinster's heaviest defeat in France since they lost 33-6 to Toulouse in 2007.