Alan Quinlan will create history at Thomond Park on Saturday when he becomes Munster’s most-capped player, making his 202nd competitive appearance for the province in their Heineken Cup Pool 3 encounter with Toulon.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 3: Saturday, October 16
MUNSTER (4th) v TOULON (3rd), Thomond Park, 3.30pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1)
Team News: In the absence of the suspended Sam Tuitupou, Munster’s number 12 jersey will be worn by Johne Murphy for the sold-out showdown with French side Toulon.
Munster coach Tony McGahan has opted to make four personnel changes to the team that started last weekend’s 23-17 loss to London Irish in Reading.
Murphy and Keith Earls form a new-look centre partnership, with Paul Warwick returning to the side at full-back.
Murphy, who hails from Rathangan in County Kildare, played at outside centre in Munster’s first three Magners League games last month.
He reverted to the wing for the matches against Glasgow Warriors and Leinster and then slotted in at full-back for the Heineken Cup opener against London Irish.
“I don’t mind where they pick me, once they do,” admitted Murphy, who scored six tries in 18 Heineken Cup appearances for his previous club Leicester.
In the forwards, Mick O’Driscoll takes over from Donnacha Ryan in the second row, and Alan Quinlan and David Wallace resume in a back row unit led by stand-in captain Denis Leamy, who switches back to number 8.
Quinlan will win his 202nd Munster cap on Saturday afternoon, becoming the province’s most-capped player. The previous record holder was former captain Anthony Foley (201 caps).
Wallace, who made such an impression when introduced for the injured Niall Ronan against London Irish, will start at openside flanker.
In a further boost, the fit-again Jerry Flannery returns to a Munster matchday squad for the first time since last May’s Heineken Cup semi-final defeat to Biarritz Olympique.
Flannery, who has been nursing a calf injury, enjoyed a 40-minute run-out for Shannon in the All-Ireland League last weekend. He joins Marcus Horan and John Hayes on Munster’s replacements bench.
Meanwhile, Heineken Cup newcomers Toulon have made wholesale changes for their first ever trip to Limerick.
The biggest call for coach Philippe Saint-Andre is at out-half where Felipe Contepomi will start in place of goal-kicker supreme, Jonny Wilkinson.
Contepomi has plenty of experience of facing Munster, from his time with Leinster, and has also enjoying duelling with Ronan O’Gara at international level.
Indeed, this will be the Argentinian’s first Heineken Cup appearance since he injured his knee in the 2009 semi-final against Munster.
From the Toulon team that started last weekend’s 19-14 home win over the Ospreys, Saint-Andre has made 12 changes in personnel.
The only players retained are winger Paul Sackey, centre Mafi Kefu and Australia’s most-capped forward, George Smith.
Springbok Joe van Niekerk, ex-Saracens lock Kris Chesney and former All Black prop Carl Hayman have been drafted in for what is expected to be a very physical clash.
Jean-Philippe Genevois, the ex-Bourgoin hooker, is back from a long injury lay-off, and the New Zealand-capped Rudi Wulf offers an increased threat on the left wing.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Johne Murphy, Denis Hurley; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, Tony Buckley, Donncha O’Callaghan, Mick O’Driscoll, Alan Quinlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Jerry Flannery, Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donnacha Ryan, James Coughlan, Niall Ronan, Duncan Williams, Scott Deasy.
TOULON: Clement Marienval; Paul Sackey, Mafi Kefu, Fotu Auelua, Rudi Wulf; Felipe Contepomi, Pierre Mignoni; Laurent Emmanuelli, Jean-Philippe Genevois, Carl Hayman, Jocelino Suta, Kris Chesney, George Smith, Joe El Abd, Joe van Niekerk (capt).
Replacements: Mickael Ivaldi, Saimone Taumoepeau, Davit Kubriashvili, Olivier Missoup, Gabi Lovobalavu, Jonny Wilkinson, Laurent Magnaval, Dean Schofield.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: David Rose, Robin Goodliffe (both England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 3/10; Draw: 22/1; Toulon to win: 5/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Tony McGahan (Munster) – “You’re certainly dealing with two opposite ends of the spectrum when you’re looking at environment and culture.
“Munster is homegrown players who have been born, grown up on the field together, lived in the one area all of their lives and certainly have built friendships and relationships not only between themselves, but also with the community.
“That’s against a (Toulon) side who have been bankrolled to be put together. There are many different ways of bringing success and they have certainly started that journey over the last two or three years.
“You look at what Toulon achieved last season with their results in the Top 14 and also in the Challenge Cup and this season they have set the bar higher with the calibre of player they have brought in.
“They are very different ways of approaching professional rugby, but it is a great challenge. That collective will and the environment the (Munster) players have been part of and excelled in – put their own self inside to make sure it grows – those sort of things give you the edge in big games. We’re looking for that to play a part on Saturday evening.
“We obviously enjoy playing here at Thomond Park, so it means a lot to us to play back here in front of our fans. We really look at what we can control to get the result.
“Whatever team Toulon put out, they really have a strong way of playing and the fulcrum of that is (Jonny) Wilkinson. Whether he plays or does not play, definitely there will be a point of difference if he doesn’t play.”
Philippe Saint-Andre (Toulon) – “We are going to Thomond Park to learn. I’m sure the Munster guys will be angry. They play in front of their own fans, the stadium will be full and they have a lot to prove.
“People say that Munster are on the decline, but I don’t believe that. I remember hearing the same twice when I went there with Sale and twice we shipped 40 points or so.
“I know how they are going to play, they will try to intimidate us, the crowd will put pressure on the referee, so we will have to be at the top of our game if we are to manage to get something from this trip.”
Current Form – Munster – (Magners League): Won 33-17 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 16-13 away to Edinburgh; Won 22-10 at home to the Ospreys; Won 43-29 away to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 13-9 away to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 23-17 away to London Irish
Toulon – (Top 14): Lost 26-22 at home to Bayonne; Won 13-3 away to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 36-31 at home to Racing Metro 92; Won 15-13 away to La Rochelle; Lost 27-9 away to Brive; Won 41-10 at home to Agen; Won 28-16 at home to Clermont Auvergne; Won 26-3 away to Bourgoin; Won 22-15 at home to Castres Olympique; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-14 at home to the Ospreys
Previous European Meetings: 0
Heineken Cup Records:
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the semi-finals
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool D
1995/96: Failed to qualify from Pool D
2010/11 is their first season in the Heineken Cup