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Heineken Cup Semi-Final Preview: Toulon v Munster

Heineken Cup Semi-Final Preview: Toulon v Munster

Munster’s record 11th Heineken Cup semi-final sees them tasked with toppling defending champions Toulon, as they take on French opposition at the penultimate stage for the second year in a row.


TOULON v MUNSTER, Stade Vélodrome, 4.30pm local time/3.30pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2 HD/France 2/Canal+/RTÉ 2fm/Newstalk/highlights TG4)

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Team News: Damien Varley, who makes his first start in a Heineken Cup semi-final this Sunday, will lead the Munster team out when they take on Toulon at the Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.

JJ Hanrahan has recovered sufficiently from a groin injury to be included on the replacements bench for Munster’s 11th Heineken Cup semi-final.

Hanrahan has been extremely disciplined in following his rehabilitation programme and is part of the matchday 23 for the much-anticipated clash with the defending champions.

His impressive work-rate and dedicated approach have helped the young out-half recover from the moderate groin tear he sustained against Glasgow Warriors earlier this month.

Donnacha Ryan, who has been battling with a foot injury since March’s Benetton Treviso game, did take part in this week’s training programme but has not been included in the squad after a final assessment was made following this morning’s training session at Thomond Park.

Sean Dougall returns to a Heineken Cup starting line-up for the first time since the away win over Perpignan in December – he joins CJ Stander and James Coughlan in the back row.

Rob Penney has kept faith with the front five that started in the quarter-final win over Toulouse, and with Casey Laulala recovering from a fractured bone in his hand the province’s head coach can call on the same back-line too.

With the change to the back row Tommy O’Donnell is named among the replacements, while prop James Cronin returns from a sprained ankle to also feature in the reserves.

Meanwhile, captain Jonny Wilkinson and winger Bryan Habana have recovered from their respective hamstring and thigh/tendonitis injuries to be named in Toulon’s starting line-up.

Wilkinson and company are chasing their second Irish scalp after seeing off Leinster 29-14 in the last round. Their passionate home support will be on the move to the Stade Vélodrome – a new venue for the Heineken Cup.

Toulon have played a number of their Top 14 games in Marseille – 65 kilometres ‘up the road’ – and were beaten there by Cardiff Blues in the 2010 Amlin Challenge Cup final.

Apart from Habana’s inclusion at the expense of David Smith, the Toulon management have kept faith with the team that defeated Leinster. Pack powerhouses Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams and Andrew Sheridan remain absent through injury.

The Armitage brothers, Delon and Steffon, Matt Giteau, Jocelino Suta and Juan Fernandez Lobbe are the five players retained from the Toulon side that started last weekend’s 46-31 league victory over Perpignan.

TOULON: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana; Jonny Wilkinson (capt), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman, Danie Rossouw, Jocelino Suta, Juan Smith, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Steffon Armitage.

Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Alexandre Menini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Virgile Bruni, David Smith, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Konstantine Mikautadze.

MUNSTER: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; David Kilcoyne, Damien Varley (capt), BJ Botha, David Foley, Paul O’Connell, CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.

Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle, Luke Pearce (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)

Match Odds (Paddy Power): Toulon to win: 1/4; Draw: 25/1; Munster to win: 10/3

Pre-Match Quotes: James Downey (Munster) – “The tradition and history is there and it’s what the province is renowned for. The players come into the squad knowing that and every foreigner that comes over, that’s how they know about Munster, from the Heineken Cup.

“It’s a great thing to be associated with teams that have won things and that’s what you want. You want to create your own legacy as well, rather than living in the past though, and you want to win your own trophies and be in the big games that we’ve been in over the last couple of years.

“It’s a young team coming through and they want to make their own stamp now. They’d like to have their own bit of history.

“The lads put their heads down and really pick things up in a Heineken Cup week. It’s a competition where we do produce big performances. You’re in front of everyone and everyone ups their game for it, really focusses on it and switches on for the Heineken Cup.

“There is a big shift – the PRO12 is your bread and butter and it’s what you do day in and day out, but the big crowds and the big games are always in the Heineken.

“It’s the hype you get that you wouldn’t normally get in the Rabo. The Heineken Cup is the Champions League (of rugby) and you want to be playing there.

“Last year after playing Clermont, we realised in the dressing room that we had let it slip. We had a great chance to beat Clermont away and we said to ourselves that we had to remember that game for this year.

“We’re more confident now. We’re more experienced and more prepared than we were last year. We’ve got another chance to do it. It’s going to be a great occasion and the lads will really be up for it.”

Bernard Laporte (Toulon) – “The atmosphere is not quite the same as it is in the league. Everybody’s very serious and very focused. Every single player wants to play – there are no small injuries anymore.

“For a coach, it’s just happiness. I love it! The guys are so into the game. Before I even speak, they are already listening.

“After the success against Perpignan (Toulon won 46-31 in Barcelona), I told players that they surprised me, that some of them had just reached a new level.

“They got us out of trouble – they played and they won. I’m going to make some guys unhappy when it comes to those who won’t be in the group on Sunday.

“In Toulon though, the reaction of the guys who are not in the group is very good. They always surprise me. In their position, I’m not sure that I would react the same.

“They are champions and I was not. Fred Michalak, when he wasn’t in the group against Leinster after two good games, he showed the reaction of a champion.”

Video Highlights: Munster v Toulouse

Video Highlights: Toulon v Leinster

Current Form – Toulon – (Top 14 Championship): Drew 22-22 away to Montpellier; Won 41-14 at home to Racing Metro 92; Lost 28-26 away to Grenoble; Won 62-12 at home to Brive; Won 24-13 away to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 22-15 away to Castres Olympique; Won 18-12 at home to Bayonne; Lost 25-22 away to Oyonnax; Won 25-19 at home to Clermont Auvergne; (Heineken Cup): Won 51-28 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Lost 19-15 away to Cardiff Blues; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 13-12 away to Toulouse; Won 37-17 at home to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 15-9 at home to Perpignan; Lost 23-0 away to Stade Francais; (Heineken Cup): Won 14-9 away to Exeter Chiefs; Won 32-20 at home to Exeter Chiefs; (Top 14 Championship): Won 43-10 at home to Montpellier; Lost 14-3 away to Racing Metro 92; Lost 22-21 at home to Grenoble; (Heineken Cup): Won 43-20 at home to Cardiff Blues; Won 15-8 away to Glasgow Warriors; (Top 14 Championship): Lost 23-10 away to Brive; Won 33-20 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Won 19-13 at home to Castres Olympique; Won 15-9 away to Bayonne; Won 64-10 at home to Oyonnax; Lost 22-16 away to Clermont Auvergne; Won 32-28 at home to Toulouse; (Heineken Cup): Won 29-14 at home to Leinster; (Top 14 Championship): Won 22-20 away to Bordeaux-Begles; Won 46-31 away to Perpignan

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; (Heineken Cup): Won 47-23 at home to Toulouse; (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 22-5 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 32-23 away to Connacht

Top Scorers – 2013/14 Heineken Cup: Toulon – Points: Jonny Wilkinson 79; Tries: David Smith 3; Munster – Points: Ian Keatley 79; Tries: Keith Earls 3

Previous European Meetings: 2

Sunday, January 16, 2011 – Pool 3 – Toulon 32 Munster 16, Stade Félix Mayol
Saturday, October 16, 2010 – Pool 3 – Munster 45 Toulon 18, Thomond Park

Match Facts & Figures –

– This will be Munster’s 11th Heineken Cup semi-final, and they now hold the record for most semi-final appearances bypassing Toulouse who had also reached the last four on 10 occasions prior to this season

– Toulon have won all 12 of their Heineken Cup games when they have either been at home, or have had home country advantage

– The two teams met in the pool stage of the 2010/11 tournament with both registering impressive home wins

– Reigning champions Toulon are appearing in a second Heineken Cup semi-final (last season they dispatched Saracens at this stage

– Munster have won four semi-finals, and have gone on to win the final on two occasions in 2006 and 2008

– Munster have the best penalties conceded record in the Heineken Cup this season, giving away an average of just 8.3 penalties/free-kicks per game

– The province have also been the most effective side at the breakdown, winning more turnovers per game (12.1) and achieving the best ruck success rate (97%)

– Toulon have averaged more penalty kicks at goal per game (3.9) than any other side in the Heineken Cup this season with the tournament’s joint-top points scorer Jonny Wilkinson knocking over a competition high 19

– Wilkinson and Munster’s Ian Keatley are level at the top of the points scoring charts for this season with 79 points apiece

– Steffon Armitage is top of the turnovers-won chart in the Heineken Cup this season with 17

Heineken Cup Records:

Toulon –
2012/13: Champions
2010/11: Reached the quarter-finals

Munster –
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
2007/08: Champions
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Champions
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Reached the semi-finals
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Runners-up
2000/01: Reached the semi-finals
1999/00: Runners-up
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