Munster v Toulon | Match Preview
29th March 2018 By The Editor
Munster host Toulon for the fourth time in the Champions Cup on Saturday at a sold-out Thomond Park with a semi-final place on the line (live on Sky Sports, 3.15pm).
In the three previous meetings, both teams won their home games in the 2010/11 Pool stage while Toulon were victorious in the 2014 semi-final in Marseille.
Having beaten fellow Top 14 heavyweights Clermont Auvergne 49-0 last weekend, Toulon will go into the game full of confidence especially since they have won eight of their nine meetings with Irish provinces.
In winger Chris Ashton, they boast the competition’s all-time leading try scorer with 38, the England international has scored at least one try in each of his nine European campaigns.
Alongside Munster’s Rory Scannell and CJ Stander, Ashton is one of just five players from the quarter-finalists to play every minute of the pool stage.
Looking ahead to his first taste of knock-out rugby with Munster, Head Coach Johann van Graan said: “It’s always pressure. I’m relishing the opportunity. I think it’s why we work in rugby – for moments like this. It’s my first one with Munster. I was lucky enough to be part of Super Rugby finals and semi-finals, and a World Cup semi-final and play-off games.
“This is unique. I’m looking forward to it, can’t wait for Saturday. If you can’t enjoy weeks like this, why are you in the game. You want it, that’s why you are in the game. You want it, that’s why we train. You want this pressure, and hopefully we can come through it.
“Any side that beats Clermont 49-0 is quality. Just look at the tries they scored, some of their broken field attack, their maul, and their scrum. In some scrums they went just right through the opposition. They have star players everywhere. They put a fantastic game together last Sunday. We’ll have to be at our very best to get a result on Saturday. Toulon have fantastic ball carriers – Isa, Vermeulen, Nonu, Bastereau, Fekitoa, Pieterson, Ashton. I could name any guy. We will have to be at our best in all areas to get through this game.”
Captain Peter O’Mahony returns to the Munster side after his Grand Slam-winning exploits with Ireland and is looking forward to stepping back onto the Thomond turf.
“At the end of the day, all of those big wins we’ve seen in Thomond Park come down to big performances on the day,” he said.
“No doubt it is certainly a factor. We get incredible support – relentlessly over the years – and it will certainly be a factor, but we have to prepare ourselves to put in a huge performance to match the one the supporters will put in.
“We have the biggest week of the club’s year so far this week with the calibre of Toulon coming over here. I can rattle off tens of reasons why the mind has to be focused now, getting back to work and getting ready for Saturday.”
“We’ve come up against Toulon a few times. Big squads, the calibre of player they have is incredible, with big, big forwards. We can talk about them all day but we’ve got to have a good look at ourselves as well, and put our best foot forward on Saturday. If we play averagely, or just above average, we will probably have a good score put on us. So we have to have the best performance of the season so far if we are going to be in with a shot.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play with this club all my life. We are obviously back into a European quarter-final. You’ve regrets from some years, and fond memories of big wins. Some of it stands with you for a long time, and you have to remember those lows and the highs, and try to balance that with training, and take all of those memories into Saturday.”
Ian Keatley, who has scored 61 points in six Champions Cup games so far this season, is excited by the challenge that awaits.
The out-half said: “This is what you play rugby for, you want to be part of these games. Toulon will be a tough test. If you look at their squad, and their individuals – they are a phenomenal squad. Our main focus this week is on the collective. If we stick together, and have a good game plan, then we can turn out a result. You want to play against the best players in the world, and you get an opportunity to do that at the weekend. They are star-studded from 1-15, 1-23 and beyond. It’s going to be exciting, whoever they play against us, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Champions Cup Quarter-Final – Saturday, March 31
Munster v RC Toulon, Thomond Park, 3.15pm
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wal)
Assistant Referee 1: Ben Whitehouse (Wal)
Assistant Referee 2: Ian Davies (Wal)