After crushing four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse 47-23 at Thomond Park, Munster’s Paul O’Connell praised the province’s back-line for their influence on the memorable quarter-final success.
“They (the backs) were excellent. A lot of the ball you get in rugby matches now isn’t off set piece any more, it’s off turnovers and balls won on the ground,” explained Paul O’Connell, who scored Munster’s sixth and final try against the French side.
“When we did turn the ball over and when we did win it, the backs were excellent.
“Earlsy (Keith Earls), (Simon) Zebo, Casey (Laulala), Keats (Ian Keatley), James (Downey) – all the boys were really, really good off turnover ball. It is probably the fourth set piece you need to be good at and they were excellent today.”
It took just five minutes for Munster to score their opening try and they added five more in the second half as Toulouse capitulated under the pressure.
And after the disappointment of losing to rivals Leinster last weekend, O’Connell stated it was the perfect start which they were looking for.
“It was great to get off to the start we did, into the wind. We scored a try which dusted off the cobwebs of last week and I think Keats knocked it over from the touchline into the wind.
“He hit a penalty and it was 13-3 early on and into the wind, which was great.”
With Keatley’s two penalties and conversion helping them lead by four points at half-time, O’Connell was pleased with their second half response.
A brace of tries from Dave Kilcoyne and man-of-the-match CJ Stander within six minutes of the restart effectively buried Toulouse, as Munster dominated the visitors in the lineout and Toulouse were unable to deal with their maul.
It was another pleasing aspect for O’Connell who stated that when you are faced with a superior maul – Toulouse were mauled back a full 22 metres at one point – it becomes disheartening.
The second row added: “It was brilliant. Technically we have a very good maul. For all the Irish provinces, it is something they work very hard on and we certainly got a lot of reward from it today, particularly when we came out in the second half.
“It probably laid the foundations for two early tries that put us in a great position. Toulouse had to chase the game as well. The maul was really satisfying.
“We came out in the second half, scored the tries early and they had to chase the game. They scored some tries, but we were able to pick them off as well and score some tries on counter attack.
“It was a brilliant performance. I never dreamed we’d score as many points as we did, or as many tries as we did. Delighted for everyone.”
After one of the most complete performances by a Munster side, the Ireland captain downplayed their chances in the semi-finals, insisting that it was not a performance that makes them fearless going into the last-four.
“I wouldn’t say that (we don’t fear anyone). We’re probably the smallest team left in the competition. If you look at the size of the other teams, even Toulouse today are a lot bigger than us.
“We didn’t get a look in last week against Leinster, but today was a step up for us. It’s a challenge for us now to maintain that kind of consistency in both the Rabo and the Heineken Cup going forward.”