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Heaslip not daunted by Toulon task

Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip knows the Irish heavyweights can use their big-game Heineken Cup experience to underpin a demanding quarter-final mission against reigning European champions Toulon on Sunday.

But the Ireland number eight also accepts that the three-time Heineken Cup winners face one of their toughest European challenges.

Toulon have yet to lose at Stade Felix Mayol in 10 Heineken Cup home matches, which underlines the huge task facing Heaslip and company.

The high-octane occasion, though, will not be an unfamiliar one for Leinster, having shown their pedigree by winning European titles in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

"We've had some whopper games over the last couple of years in the knockout stages, both home and away," Heaslip said.

"We've had a lot of good experience in Europe and we have all that experience to call on, but it's about being the best we can be on the day.

"We know what it is going to take because we've been there and experienced big away games in Europe, especially in France."

Fly-half Jonny Wilkinson skippers Toulon in what looks set to be his last European game before retirement if the French club lose, but the home side are without injured locks Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha.

Leinster star Brian O'Driscoll also faces a Heineken farewell should Toulon triumph, and while most attention will focus on Wilkinson and O'Driscoll facing each other for the final time, Heaslip knows the title holders are far from being a one-man team.

"Their whole team is littered with international players of pretty high calibre," he added.

"Whoever they pick, it's going to be a bit of a challenge for us. They have got really skillful, hard quality players who run hard, tackle hard and ruck hard.

"These are games you look forward to and get excited about because you are going up against a good quality side. This is why you play rugby.

"Everyone in this club knows what it takes to go the whole way and win the competition, so we are fully aware of the standard we're going to have to bring to the game."

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte added: "Leinster have lots of very strong players.

"They have won three Heineken Cups and are almost always in the last four of the competition, so it's very exciting to play a team like that.

"If you lose field position, it's very hard to get it back because they know what to do to keep going forward. They know when and how to kick the ball, and once they are ahead on the scoreboard it's very hard to come back."

The second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup sees its quarter-final stage conclude on Sunday, with prospects high of total English domination.

Northampton and Harlequins will meet each other in the first semi-final later this month following respective victories over Sale Sharks and Stade Francais, and a second all-English tie is likely.

Bath, firm favourites to account for Recreation Ground visitors Brive, include Gavin Henson in midfield, with England lock Dave Attwood captaining a team that also sees starts for half-backs George Ford and Micky Young.

Gloucester, meanwhile, show three changes for their quarter-final trip to Wasps, with hooker Dan George and lock James Hudson both featuring, and Billy Twelvetrees moving from centre to fly-half instead of an injured Ryan Mills.

Wasps welcome back England forwards Matt Mullan and Joe Launchbury, who were both rested for last week's Aviva Premiership clash against Saracens, and wing Will Helu takes over from Jonah Holmes.


From Belfast Telegraph