Leinster lock Nathan Hines believes the lineout and scrum could be the crucial elements of Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulouse.
The Magners League leaders remain in the hunt for a brace of top trophies this season but Hines knows he and his team-mates will have to be at their very best to challenge a star-studded Toulouse line up.
And Hines is hoping that he and fellow second row Leo Cullen can provide the necessary platform for the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and co to shine behind the scrum by winning plenty of set-piece ball and disrupting Toulouse possession when the French outfit have the throw.
"If we can replicate our practice in Toulouse I’m sure we will do well on the day. We will have to make sure our set-piece and scrum are strong and our tactics won’t change,” said Hines, who is in his first season with the reigning European Champions.
"Leo is good at winning and stealing line-out ball. It’s good for other teams to be fearful of our line-out but a couple of times it hasn’t gone well this season.
"London Irish in the first game of the competition wasn’t a good game to remember but, in general, it’s been an area of strength for us.
"But we know it’s only one facet of the game. However, if we can win clean ball up front then it will make life much easier for us as Toulouse are a very good team with a lot of ball players.
"They have many clever and dangerous players, particularly in their back three so we will have to be strong defensively to shut them down."
Leinster have been dealt a major blow after Sexton, who kicked Michael Cheika’s men to a historic final win over Leicester Tigers in Edinburgh last season, was ruled out of the last four tie after failing to recover from a fractured jaw.
Shaun Berne will deputise at fly-half for the Irish giants but Australian-born Hines believes his team-mates are peaking at just the right time of the season to maintain their quest for further silverware.
"A lot of the lads have been injured or rested in the past 10 days so everyone has had a break," added Hines.
"Whereas we knew Toulouse had a tough game against Castres last weekend to book a home play-off place in the Top 14.
"We are peaking for this game and training has been good this week. We could not have prepared any better for this challenge."
Speaking of Sexton’s absence Leinster boss Cheika admitted he gave his young star plenty of time to recover but that, ultimately, the 24-year-old fell just short.
“Jonny was desperate to play and we gave him every opportunity,” said Cheika.
“But we felt it was too big a risk and we also have the player’s welfare and safety in mind.
“But we have 100 per cent confidence that Shaun Berne can do the job.”
Toulouse vs Leinster, Stade Municipal, Saturday, 3.45pm
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud, V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, C Heymans, D Skrela, B Kelleher, D Human, W Servat or V Lacombe, B Lecouls, R Millo-Chluski, P Albacete, J Bouilhou, T Dusautoir [capt], S Sowerby
Replacements: V Lacombe or A Vernat Basualdo, J Poux, Y Montes, Y Maestri, L Picamoles , J Elissalde, Y David or F Maka , M Medard
Leinster: R Kearney, S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, I Nacewa, S Berne, E Reddan, C Healy, J Fogarty, S Wright, L Cullen [capt], N Hines, K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip
Replacements: B Jackman, C Van Der Linde, M Ross, M O’Kelly, S Keogh, P O’Donohoe, E O’Malley, G Dempsey