Leinster got the Heineken Champions Cup season under way last Friday night with a 52-3 battering of visitors Wasps that demonstrated their intent to go back to back in the European competition.
The Leinster back line was on fire, with six of the eight tries coming from James Lowe, Luke McGrath, Robbie Henshaw and Jordan Larmour.
This reflects their style of play. We are used to teams breaking down the opposition with their pack and rumbling over from close range before the backline profit from quicker ball and a tiring opposition front eight. This is not the case for Leinster.
Don’t get me wrong, they are well able for the grunt work too. The way they dispatched an in-form Scarlets side last year in the semi-final was a real eye opener for me.
If they hit a close, one-out runner they still did it with pace, destroyed the ruck and found the next guy at pace. It is a very physical side but there doesn’t seem to be any stand out bruiser in the pack, at least there wasn't while Sean O’Brien was injured.
Journalist Murray Kinsella posted a quote on his Instagram from James Lowe about the breakdown, which depicts their attitude towards the physical side of the game quite well: "Every time you go to a ruck you should completely rearrange it".
Despite what Lowe says, they are very accurate with who they target and how they rearrange that ruck, and it allows their back line fast ball to play with.
Wasps kept the game very close for most of the first half before a Lima Sopoaga sin-bin derailed them a bit.
But Leinster were always going to come good in the second half. The squad they can call upon is unrivalled, with 27 internationals to choose from.
We’re used to seeing that kind of depth in teams like Toulon with very deep pockets but this Leinster side is made up of mostly Irish lads and a few well executed marquee signings.
Having a squad like this means that when they make changes the game actually speeds up and they find another gear. It’s a hard thing to find an answer to. They are firm early favourites to win the competition, once they can steer clear of many injuries during the international windows.
Leinster travel to Toulouse this weekend in what is sure to be an exciting and close encounter, at least for the first 60 or 70 minutes.
The French side profited from a silly Freddie Burns error in the dying minutes of their game against Bath to get off to a decent start away from home in the competition. The less said about try celebrations the better.
There are two life lessons to learn from this clip:— BT Sport (@btsport) October 13, 2018
1. Never celebrate until the job is done
2. Never stop chasing
Freddie Burns has just learned the hard way after missing a chance to win the game for Bath 😳pic.twitter.com/4AVaka3nO3
Toulouse didn’t look anything special in that game and will be without All Black Jerome Kaino after a slightly high hit on Jamie Roberts saw him sent to the sin bin and ridiculously followed up with a five-week ban.
The yellow card was probably a fair sanction considering the new focus on tackles being below the nipple line.
Roberts isn’t a small guy so whether he hit him just below the jaw or on it isn’t really the point. He aimed high and hit Roberts high and was rightly penalised for it but 10 minutes was enough. Five weeks is far too harsh.
Toulouse’s form has been hit and miss this season and Leinster at home could be a spring board to go further in this competition. However, I don’t see them upsetting the odds and ultimately I think they'll struggle to go far in Europe.
I’d love to be wrong on this one. Toulouse were the European powerhouse when I grew up watching the Heineken Cup and had four stars on their jersey just after Leinster got their first, so to see them competing again would be great.
The one similarity between Leinster and Toulouse is when they get their offloading game right they are tough to stop.
The defensive game in rugby union has gone so strong and aggressive in the last couple of years that it becomes a very long 80 minutes if you can’t get past the first tackle. Teams that fail to keep the ball alive find themselves facing a wall of defenders that have slowed the ball enough to get organised again and win the gain line on the next collision.
You can speak about different systems of attack but, ultimately, if you can’t go forward your game plan will suffer. Teams like Leinster capitalise on missed or soaked tackles and keep the ball alive so the defence never has time to set again and transfer pressure to the attack.
If you’ve made a dent in the defence, you must keep chipping away with an offload or a quick breakdown so you can move the play again and keep the defence on the back foot.
Offloading is traditionally the hallmark of the good French sides. Toulouse are going to need fast ball in a passionate Stade Ernest Wallon to break down the formidable Leinster defence if they want to have a chance this weekend.
Elsewhere, Munster will be full of confidence after exceeding expectations with two points from Exeter, who remain unbeaten at home. The exciting part about that performance is that there’s still room to improve and they probably should have won the game.
I’d expect Thomond Park to be too much for Gloucester but whether Munster can make a statement and win with a bonus point will be answered on Saturday afternoon.
Ulster’s joy at home will be short-lived as they travel to Racing 92. This will be a tough ask and comes at a bad time for them after getting back on track on Saturday evening.
A good performance and a close scoreline would be a positive result but their scrum will struggle which will make for a long night in Paris.
Follow Munster v Gloucester via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app. Listen to live and exclusive radio commentary of Racing 92 v Ulster on RTÉ Radio 1's Saturday Sport.
Follow Toulouse v Leinster via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app or listen to live and exclusive national radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1's Sunday Sport.