Munster are well used to big European games of the ‘must win’ variety, and they face into yet another one in their long, illustrious Heineken Cup history this Sunday. Paul O’Connell is back from suspension as his side try to beat Toulon and take control of Pool 3.
HEINEKEN CUP: POOL 3: Sunday, January 16
TOULON (1st) v MUNSTER (2nd), Stade Félix Mayol, 4pm local time/3pm Irish time (live Sky Sports 2/HD2)
Team News: Available again after completing his suspension, Paul O’Connell has been selected to start Munster’s Heineken Cup Pool 3 showdown with Toulon at Stade Felix Mayol.
O’Connell’s return to the Munster starting line-up could not come at a more opportune time as they face into what the players accept is a win or bust game against pool leaders Toulon.
O’Connell’s inclusion means the in-form Mick O’Driscoll moves to the replacements bench as head coach Tony McGahan makes just three changes to the side that played the Ospreys home and away in the most recent rounds.
Peter Stringer retains the number 9 jersey for what will be his 89th Heineken Cup appearance, with Tomas O’Leary providing back-up on the bench.
The Heineken Cup’s most-capped player, John Hayes, gets the nod to start at tighthead prop ahead of Tony Buckley. It will be Hayes’ 98th match in European club rugby’s premier tournament.
London Irish also host the Ospreys in Pool 3 on Sunday afternoon, and mathematically, all four teams are still in with a shout of qualifying for the quarter-finals.
Toulon are in pole position on 13 points, with Munster (11), the Ospreys (10) and London Irish (5) trailing them. Munster are at home to Irish in round 6, at the same time as Toulon pay the Ospreys a visit.
Wisely not daring to look beyond this Sunday’s action, Munster lock Donncha O’Callaghan explained how the two-time champions are approaching their trip to the south of France.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s a case of winning on Sunday, simple as that.” said O’Callaghan, the man-of-the-match in last weekend’s Magners League win over Glasgow Warriors.
“This is what we’re all about. It’s really what we were reared on in terms of the professional club game. The Heineken Cup is where it’s at.”
“It was the first international club competition. It’s different to the league obviously because it’s knockout rugby. You could lose three four games in the Magners League and still qualify for the knockout stages. You don’t have that leeway in this competition.”
He added: “We’ve been here before. In this situation. There was Gloucester at Thomond Park. There was the quarter-final away to Stade Francais with a gale-force wind in our faces.
“There was Perpignan away. People might write us off. We’ll never do that to ourselves.”
Meanwhile, former Leinster star Felipe Contepomi and England ace Jonny Wilkinson are the marquee names in the Toulon back-line for Sunday’s much-anticipated tie.
Contepomi will start at inside centre, with Wilkinson, who kicked just three points when the sides met in Limerick, linking up with Pierre Mignoni in an experienced half-back combination.
Former New Zealand prop Carl Hayman is a notable absentee from the hosts’ matchday squad. A neck injury forced him to miss last weekend’s Top 14 loss at Racing Metro 92, and he will be on the sidelines again on Sunday as Georgian international Davit Kubriashvili starts at tighthead prop.
It is the same front row that lined out in the 15-12 defeat to Racing. Christophe Samson and Dean Schofield return in the second row, and team captain Joe van Niekerk is the only new inclusion in the back row.
Argentina’s Juan Fernandez Lobbe – one of three Toulon players to extend their contracts earlier this week – is part of of a formidable looking back row unit, alongside George Smith and van Niekerk, who is fully recovered from a recent virus.
TOULON: Rudi Wulf; Paul Sackey, Gabi Lovobalavu, Felipe Contepomi, Christian Loamanu; Jonny Wilkinson, Pierre Mignoni; Laurent Emmanuelli, Sebastien Bruno, Davit Kubriashvili, Christophe Samson, Dean Schofield, Juan Fernandez Lobbe, George Smith, Joe van Niekerk (capt).
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Saimone Taumoepeau, Mehdi Merabet, Joe El Abd, Fotu Auelua, Rory Lamont, Laurent Magnaval, Kris Chesney.
MUNSTER: Paul Warwick; Doug Howlett, Keith Earls, Sam Tuitupou, Johne Murphy; Ronan O’Gara, Peter Stringer; Wian du Preez, Damien Varley, John Hayes, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, James Coughlan, David Wallace, Denis Leamy (capt).
Replacements: Mike Sherry, Darragh Hurley, Tony Buckley, Mick O’Driscoll, Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan, Tomas O’Leary, Lifeimi Mafi.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: Sean Davey, Peter Huckle (both England)
Television Match Official: Graham Hughes (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Toulon to win: 4/9; Draw: 20/1; Munster to win: 7/4
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Pre-Match Quotes: Denis Leamy (Munster) – “The last couple of days have been nervy but exciting. It’s a season defining week and one that we really, really have to focus in on.
“We met up in Tuesday in Mallow and just did a bit of a walk through to learn our moves and different phase plays we want to do. There was a 15-minute match and there was good intensity. Our intensity was up and you could see that.
“We haven’t won in the Heineken Cup away from home now for the last three or four times we’ve been on the road, I would imagine, and we really need to get over that barrier.
“We got ourselves in some good positions against the Ospreys, against London Irish, where we could have taken the game. Against the Ospreys we got ourselves in an area where we could have scored a try and kicked on from there but we didn’t unfortunately.
“So I think this really has been thrown down to us as our season. We need to get four points at least and we just have to bring our ‘A’ game.
“We have to do everything, and that includes lineouts and scrums, the work out the backs, on the floor, everything has to be up there to gain a win. Just going from what I could see this morning we’ve made a good start and hopefully it continues from there.
Felipe Contepomi (Toulon) – “For us to play a team like Munster, one of the best teams with the most history in the Heineken Cup, is tough for us. For, especially in this competition, they know exactly what they need from every single game.
“When it comes to qualifying they are the experts in that aspect. They know precisely what they must do, what will be enough, what is essential. Time and again they have shown themselves as masters of this situation.
“These are the sort of matches that drive you on. Yes, it will be awkward but that is the challenge. Whenever I played against Munster, it was always the biggest game you could get. It didn’t matter whether it was the Heineken Cup or Magners League – it cannot get bigger than a match against them.
“But it will be different playing Munster in a Toulon shirt. It’s not only about Munster, but more about Leinster and the derby match. Those are the games you want to play in.
“People feel the tension for that entire week and after the game, the supporters keep talking about it, perhaps for a year or more, which happened after our Heineken Cup semi-finals against them.”
“It was a bad day for us (losing 45-18 at Thomond Park, but it showed us the reality of the competition. This is the season Toulon have played Heineken Cup rugby and it could not have been tougher going there. Munster knew they had to win and they gave us a good lesson in knowing what it was all about.
“You never want to lose by that many points, but if you can take something positive out of those games and learn from them, maybe they are in your favour in the end. And for sure, when you lose like that, you want to get it back.”
Current Form – 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; Lost 45-18 away to Munster; (Top 14): Lost 22-15 away to Stade Francais; Lost 44-5 away to Toulouse; Won 29-20 away to Perpignan; Won 29-13 at home to Montpellier; (Heineken Cup): Won 19-13 away to London Irish; Won 38-17 at home to London Irish; (Top 14): Lost 20-9 away to Bayonne; Won 38-26 at home to Biarritz Olympique; Lost 15-12 away to Racing Metro 92
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; Won 45-18 at home to Toulon; (Magners League): Won 39-13 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 16-6 away to Ulster; Won 27-26 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 20-6 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Won 16-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-16 at home to the Ospreys; Lost 19-15 away to the Ospreys; (Magners League): Won 16-12 away to Connacht; Won 35-10 at home to Ulster; Won 22-20 at home to Glasgow Warriors
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Heineken Cup: Toulon – Points: Jonny Wilkinson 31; Tries: Paul Sackey, Jean-Philippe Genevois, Joe van Niekerk, Rudi Wulf, Tom May, Felipe Contepomi, Mickael Ivaldi, Olivier Missoup, Christian Loamanu 1 each; Munster – Points: Ronan O’Gara 39; Tries: Doug Howlett 3
Previous European Meetings: 1
Saturday, October 16, 2010 – Pool 3 – Munster 45 Toulon 18, Thomond Park
Heineken Cup Records:
2010/11 is their first season in the Heineken Cup
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