Belfast Telegraph

Leinster face tough battle to progress against Toulon side playing on the edge

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

He is widely regarded as the most effective player in the European game, but Leo Cullen says former England openside Steffon Armitage gets away with a "borderline" approach to the breakdown area.

The Toulon star is a dominant force at the breakdown who has done untold damage to Leinster in recent years, but the Blues' coach reckons that he does not show a clear release of the tackler before adopting the 'jackal' position in hunting for the turnover.

Armitage will be a central figure in tomorrow's re-match of last season's semi-final after being a hugely influential player in both of the team's meetings in the knock-out stages in the previous two seasons.

In the 2014 quarter-final, he did huge damage along with Xavier Chiocci and Mathieu Bastareaud and last April in Marseille he came off the bench to help turn a tight game in his side's favour.

Nigel Owens is the referee for tomorrow's game, a must-win affair for both teams, and Cullen hopes that he is strict on Armitage's approach.

He also hopes that the scrum is policed to the letter of the law after his side came out the worst of their battle with Bath three weeks ago.

"It will be a big challenge. We will need to be able to cope with teams that hit and chase and aren't being refereed," he said.

"That's a big issue which we have had at times because guys are coming from playing at test level where it is probably policed that bit more accurately.

"We have a very experienced referee this week so we are hoping that we are able to deal with issues like that and going we will be able to deal with Armitage who is borderline on a lot of occasions because as the tackler he doesn't get clear release at the breakdown.

"So it is important that we are allowed to have a fair contest in terms of cleaning out when our ball carriers carry into contact."

Up against the 2014 European player of the year is Josh van der Flier who is making his first European start in one of the toughest venues on the circuit tomorrow.

The UCD openside has been an impressive addition to the senior squad this season and Cullen is hoping that he carries his form into the biggest day of his career.

Cullen is confident that the 22-year-old can deliver.

"The energy, the level of detail in his preparation and performances so far, he deserves his shot this week and earns his first start in Europe, so I'm really looking forward to seeing him play," the coach said.

"Armitage has probably been the dominant No7 in Europe in the last four years, so it's a big challenge.

"It's his accuracy in terms of arrival at the breakdown when we're in possession, that ball security where the No7 is generally the first guy at the breakdown, he offers a lot in that area."

Unbeaten Pool Four leaders Leicester head to Limerick today for an appointment with Munster, having already experienced a memorable week with key quartet Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs, Ed Slater and Freddie Burns all agreeing new club contracts.

The Tigers have accounted for Stade Francais and Treviso in bonus point fashion this season, and victory at Thomond Park would make a major statement in terms of quarter-final ambitions.

Reflecting on this week's signings, Leicester fly-half Owen Williams said: "We all want success here, we want silverware, and to have players of their calibre committing to the club is a big statement for us.

"These big rivalry games in hostile environments are exactly the sort of challenges you want to face as a player.

"We have had a good start in the tournament and we have put ourselves in good shape after a couple of games, but we know these next games are going to be key."

Belfast Telegraph


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