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Leinster's season starts right now as they hone in on the real prize


Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

Leo Cullen

The routine nature of Leinster's celebrations after they won the Guinness PRO14 title last weekend said it all. Munster had been dispatched with a performance that spoke volumes about their desire, but the mission won't be accomplished until a second and third trophy are added to the cabinet.

This is a defining week in their season.

Toulon are not the force of old but, as Leo Cullen says, they'll ask questions of the four-time champions that - apart from their one visit to France during the truncated pool stages - they haven't faced all year.

Last season, they sleep-walked from the PRO14 win into a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final ambush from a Saracens team that emasculated them at set-piece and took their chances.

Learning from that experience is key. Cullen has recalled Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, Ryan Baird and James Lowe to the side that beat Munster.

Jamison Gibson-Park picked up a strain on the eve of the game and he's a loss, but there is still plenty of quality and experience in reserve if things are tight.

Toulon have a number of big names with international experience, but the loss of Ma'a Nonu to suspension and injured out-halves Anthony Belleau and Louis Carbonel weakens their backline. If Leinster can match them physically and keep the ball through long periods, they should have more than enough to progress.

Still, it's knock-out rugby, and Cullen is clearly concerned about the prospect of a freak occurrence like a red card derailing his side.

"That's the challenge with the game at the moment, isn't it?" he said. "When a team gets a red card - and you've seen lots of teams get red cards over the last couple of months - and particularly for some of the high tackles, it's these snap moments, and there's a huge accidental element to it.

"It is on the day, all you need is to win by a point to get to the next round.

"That's important for us to understand. Toulon will come to town with that mentality, trying to impose themselves on us, maybe get out of here with a one-point win, so that is important for us to understand the challenge."

The Blues were brilliant in a host of areas last weekend, but their finishing let them down.

Toulon are unlikely to miss as many tackles as Munster did, so the home side will need to be ruthless to set up a quarter-final date with Exeter or Lyon.

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