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Munster Steel Themselves For Showdown With Toulon

Munster Steel Themselves For Showdown With Toulon

With the travel expeditions well underway for Munster’s ‘Red Army’ and over four thousand supporters expected to invade Marseille over the weekend, the Munster squad will depart for the south of France on Friday.

The Munster players gathered in Limerick today for an indoor session with the final training run taking place on Friday morning before the squad and management team set off for Shannon airport.

Munster last played Toulon in January 2011 at the Stade Félix Mayol in a disappointing outing that saw the province suffer a costly 26-9 defeat, ending their Heineken Cup progress that season.

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Forwards Paul O’Connell and James Coughlan were both involved that day and have first hand experience of what lies ahead this Sunday afternoon.

Talking about his experience of playing the French side, O’Connell said: “I’ve only personally played Toulon once in the competition before and we were very well beaten away, and I think they are even a stronger side again than they were back then.

“It’s going to be very tough, but that’s what the competition is at this stage. Toulon have incredible talent all across the team.

“I think they have recruited really well – world class players that love living in Toulon and playing for Toulon. When you see the way they play it’s an incredibly tough task for us.

“Our fans have always raised their game for us and I suppose they have their finger on the pulse of the team when knowing when the pressure is big.

“They know when we are under pressure and they always rise to the occasion. They too will need to play a big role for us.”

Munster may have lost their last three Heineken Cup semi-finals, but they know all about what it takes to make the final step.

This will be their record 11th semi-final, and an eighth for the talismanic O’Connell. The Ireland and Lions lock will be critical to his province’s chances of success with his command of the lineout vital against a Toulon side still uncertain over the fitness of Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha.

“I think for this team – at the moment anyway – being away from home and having the odds against us probably suits us,” he admitted.

“As I said before the Toulouse game, we haven’t played fantastically well all season. I know we have incredible talent as well but we don’t always play to it, unfortunately.

“There were certainly hints of it in the Toulouse game and we’re going to need to be there and a whole lot better again to be able to even compete with these guys.

“We hung on well against Clermont (in last year’s semi-final) and the very small chances we got we took them and we made a game of it. That’s what we’re going to have to do this weekend.

“We’re going to have to hang in there and then when we get opportunities ourselves, we’re going to need to be really accurate, retain the ball and take our chances, however few they are.”

Number 8 Coughlan added: “It’s a massive occasion and we’re all really looking forward to it. We have to find that resolve and will to win if we want to beat the current champions.

“It’s going to take an 80-minute effort, we can’t leave anything behind. We know it’s going to take everything we have and if we don’t put that performance in we won’t be successful.

“From a preparation point of view we need to be focused and selfish in doing everything we can. The margin for error is so tight so if we make any mistakes we will be punished.”

And like O’Connell, Coughlan aso spoke about the importance of the travelling support.

“The support is massive, it always is. We wonder where people get the money, the holidays, and the tickets – they are really special days, so we always want to repay that loyalty out on the pitch,” added the Corkman.