Ever since the Heineken Cup quarter-finalists were paired up in January, the meeting of Munster and Toulouse – with six European titles between them – has had rugby fans salivating at the prospect of such a heavyweight battle.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Saturday, April 5
MUNSTER v TOULOUSE, Thomond Park, 1.30pm (live Sky Sports 2 HD/Canal+/Newstalk/highlights TG4)
Team News: Peter O’Mahony took a full part in the Munster squad’s training session in Cork on Thursday and has been named to lead the side out against Toulouse at Thomond Park.
O’Mahony was also named in last weekend’s squad for the Leinster match, but was a last minute withdrawal due to a hamstring twinge.
However, having successfully followed a modified training schedule this week, the talismanic Ireland flanker is included in Rob Penney’s starting line-up to face the French giants.
The only other change to the side sees James Downey renew his centre partnership with Casey Laulala.
With O’Mahony back to lead the team, South African CJ Stander reverts to the replacements bench.
Reserve prop John Ryan takes the place of James Cronin who is ruled out with an ankle sprain.
Alan Cotter and Gerhard van den Heever, who was added to the province’s European panel last month, are both named in their first Heineken Cup matchday squad.
Meanwhile, Toulouse make their first ever trip to Limerick with a squad bursting with international talent.
Long-time head coach Guy Noves has made ten changes to the side that picked up a losing bonus point against Toulon in Marseilles last Sunday.
The chief returnees are French international trio Yoann Maestri, Gaël Fickou and Maxime Médard, while another of the Test-capped contingent, Louis Picamoles, has shaken off an injury to start at number 8 in a dynamic back row.
Watch out for powerful 19-year-old Yacouba Camara at blindside flanker. He was very influential for the French Under-20s in their Grand Slam-clinching game against Ireland last month, but this will be only his second European start.
There are eight survivors in the starting line-up from Toulouse’s home defeat to Connacht in December, with Yoann Huget, the fit-again Florian Fritz, Jano Vermaak and Gurthro Steenkamp amongst them.
Of course, injured captain Thierry Dusautoir is a big loss as is Samoan tighthead prop Census Johnston while Noves still has injury concerns over named replacements Luke McAlister and Yannick Nyanga.
Toulouse’s away form has been disappointing this season – they have only beaten Biarritz Olympique on the road in the Top 14 – but they did get the better of Saracens at Wembley in their European pool and Noves would certainly savour a win at fortress Thomond.
MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley, BJ Botha, David Foley, Paul O’Connell; Peter O’Mahony (capt), Tommy O’Donnell, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, John Ryan, Alan Cotter, Donncha O’Callaghan, CJ Stander, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Gerhard van den Heever.
TOULOUSE: Maxime Médard; Yoann Huget, Florian Fritz, Gaël Fickou, Hosea Gear; Lionel Beauxis, Jano Vermaak; Gurthro Steenkamp, Christopher Tolofua, Yohan Montes, Yoann Maestri, Patricio Albacete (capt), Yacouba Camara, Joe Tekori, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Jaba Bregvadze, Cyril Baille, Schalk Ferreira, Romain Millo-Chluski, Gillian Galan, Jean-Marc Doussain, Luke McAlister, Yannick Nyanga.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle (England), Neil Hennessy (Wales)
Television Match Official: Derek Bevan (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Munster to win: 8/15; Draw: 22/1; Toulouse to win: 13/8
Pre-Match Quotes: Conor Murray (Munster) – “We didn’t go out (against Leinster) with the intention of kicking so much, it’s just the way it unfolded. Rob (Penney), Simon (Mannix) and Axel (Anthony Foley) have brought us through the video so we’ve learned from it.
“Our form has been quite good. There’s been the odd game where our decision-making hasn’t been as good as we would have wanted and last weekend, if you look back at the video, our shape was there.
“The game-plan was in place, we just didn’t take the right options and we kicked a little bit too much at the end of the line whereas if we’d have held the ball we’d have taken Leinster through more phases and caused them a few more problems.
“There’s huge pressure involved in it (a Heineken Cup quarter-final) and coming back from the Six Nations there’s probably a little bit more expected of you.
“I think over the last couple of years my knowledge of the game has improved, but I know what is required to win a game, what we need to do well and where we need to play the game.
“I think it’s just an experience thing I’ve gained over the last few years that will help me going into this week.
“In saying that it’s still a huge week, the atmosphere and the pressure involved. These are special occasions.”
Maxime Médard (Toulouse) – “A few of us know this kind of atmosphere and it’s true that Munster’s fans are really important. But we have experienced those kind of atmospheres in the Stade de France and Vélodrome over the last two weeks.
“We won’t be focused on the fans anyway, we are here to play a game of rugby. But some of the players do remember when we lost the 2008 final to Munster.
“We have often played Irish teams in this tournament, including Munster. We know what our team is capable of and for the most experienced players especially, the pressure of the fans won’t be a problem. But it’s true that some of the youngsters could be impressed by the context of the game.
“Our team is getting stronger. There is a lot of seriousness in training and we have raised our level of play in the past two weeks, even if we weren’t able to get a win.
“We have lacked consistency this season. I really can’t say if we’re going to win something this year but we are getting better and we are getting stronger. And I know that with that dynamic we are definitely capable of winning.
“There is no point reminding ourselves that we could have played this quarter-final at home – now, we have to play a very serious game and there could be a big win at the end.
“It’s obviously the biggest game so far this season because it’s a knockout game and if we fail, the Heineken Cup is over for us.”
Current Form – Munster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 34-23 at home to Edinburgh; Won 43-21 away to Zebre; Lost 29-19 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 23-9 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 19-15 at home to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Lost 29-23 away to Edinburgh; Won 26-10 at home to Gloucester; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 13-6 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 12-6 at home to the Ospreys; Won 31-10 away to Cardiff Blues; Won 18-14 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; (Heineken Cup): Won 36-8 at home to Perpignan; Won 18-17 away to Perpignan; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 16-10 at home to the Scarlets; Won 22-16 at home to Connacht; Lost 29-19 away to Ulster; (Heineken Cup): Won 20-7 away to Gloucester; Won 38-6 at home to Edinburgh; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 54-13 at home to Cardiff Blues; Won 36-8 at home to Zebre; Won 25-11 away to the Ospreys; Lost 18-13 away to the Scarlets; Won 14-3 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 22-18 away to Leinster
Toulouse – (Top 14 Championship): Lost 31-25 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 40-3 at home to Bayonne; Lost 38-19 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 30-6 at home to Racing Metro 92; Lost 25-0 away to Montpellier; Won 31-7 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 26-9 at home to Castres Olympique; Lost 20-16 away to Perpignan; Won 28-10 at home to Stade Francais; (Heineken Cup): Won 38-5 at home to Zebre; Won 17-16 away to Saracens; (Top 14 Championship): Won 13-12 at home to Toulon; Lost 25-13 away to Brive; Won 14-3 at home to Oyonnax; Lost 25-18 away to Grenoble; (Heineken Cup): Lost 16-14 at home to Connacht; Won 37-9 away to Connacht; (Top 14 Championship): Won 18-16 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Lost 21-13 away to Bayonne; Won 19-12 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Heineken Cup): Won 21-11 at home to Saracens; Won 16-6 away to Zebre; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 25-5 away to Racing Metro 92; Lost 15-12 at home to Montpellier; Won 16-6 away to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 29-27 away to Castres Olympique; Won 37-9 at home to Perpignan; Drew 27-27 away to Stade Francais; Lost 32-28 away to Toulon
Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 62; Tries: Keith Earls, Johne Murphy, Peter O’Mahony, James Coughlan 2 each; Toulouse – Points: Jean-Marc Doussain 36; Tries: Maxime Médard 4
Previous European Meetings: 4
Saturday, May 24, 2008 – Final – Munster 16 Toulouse 13, Millennium Stadium
Saturday, April 26, 2003 – Semi-final – Toulouse 13 Munster 12, Le Stadium
Saturday, May 6, 2000 – Semi-final – Toulouse 25 Munster 31, Stade Chaban-Delmas
Saturday, November 2, 1996 – Pool D – Toulouse 60 Munster 19, Stade Ernest Wallon
Match Facts & Figures –
– Munster conceded fewer (73) and won more (67) turnovers than any other team in the pool stages
– Munster have lost just one of their last 24 home games in the competition with the defeat coming at the hands of Ulster in 2012
– Toulouse have won their last three away games in the tournament. They have only won four on the bounce once before (1997/98)
– Toulouse conceded just four tries during the pool stages: the joint-fewest of any team, along with Ulster
Heineken Cup Records:
2012/13: Reached the semi-finals
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
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
2012/13: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2011/12: Reached the quarter-finals
2010/11: Reached the semi-finals
2008/09: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2005/06: Reached the quarter-finals
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
1999/00: Reached the semi-finals
1998/99: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the semi Finals
1996/97: Reached the semi-finals