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Backs To The Wall Again

January 15, 2011 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Backs To The Wall Again

It’s once more unto the breach for Munster as they take on the might of Toulon in what is effectively a winner take all match in the Stade Mayol this afternoon.

Defeats in the Madjeski and Liberty Stadiums, coupled with London Irish's abysmal form since that November encounter, leaves Munster with little or no wriggle room in their quest to reach the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup for a 13th successive season.

Pool leadersToulon go into this game as the bookie's undisputed favourites with their passionate supporters convinced that victory is, if not a foregone conclusion, then certainly given the venue and their glittering array of international stars, just a matter of rote.

What has the bookies so convinced is, what they consider Munster's, less than convincing form, their set piece performance last time out in Heineken fare in Swansea and the belief thatToulon has a pack that can demolish Munster and thus create the platform for Jonny Wilkinson to kick them into oblivion.

And whatever about the power of their pack, the importance of Wilkinson to Toulon's success, cannot be underestimated. Put quite simply, without the mercurial Englishman, their interest in the Heineken Cup would have well waned by now along with any thoughts of French Championship glory.

Wulf, Sackey, Lovobalavu, Contepomi, Kubriashvili, Fernandez Lobbe, Smith, van Niekerk, Lamont, Chesney and the great man's himself are hardly names that trip off the French tongue. They haven't come through any Toulon Academy structure. They're not wearing the Toulon shirt out of any sense of heritage or history and they'll likely remain only as long as Monsieur Boudjellal does. And he's already made it clear he's moving on in a year or two.

Nevertheless, that doesn't make them anything less than a formidable opponent. They play in a lovely stadium in front of a partisan and proud support and their home record speaks for itself.

So Munster do face a formidable task and one that many believe is beyond them based on their away form in this competition to date.

The case for the defence states they've been here before, have the oul dog for the hard road mindset and produce their best when their backs are to the wall.

The prosecution case is that they've been to the well too often, played the get out card too often and maybe just maybe the oul dog is too ould !

Whether or which, all will be revealed this afternoon in a smashing stadium in ideal conditions and what can almost certainly be guaranteed is that those watching in the Stade Mayol or on television are set to witness a cracker.

Munster: P Warwick, D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, J Murphy, R O’Gara, P Stringer, W du Preez, D Varley, J Hayes, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell, J Coughlan, D Wallace, D Leamy [capt]. Replacements: M Sherry, D Hurley, T Buckley, M O’Driscoll, D Ryan, N Ronan, T O’Leary, L Mafi.

Toulon: R Wulf, P Sackey, G Lovobalavu, F Contepomi, C Loamanu, J Wilkinson, P Mignoni, L Emmanuelli, S Bruno, D Kubriashvili, C Samson, D Schofield, J Fernandez Lobbe, G Smith, J van Niekerk [capt]. Replacements: J Orioli, S Taumoepeau, M Merabet, J El Abd, F Auelua, R Lamont, L Magnaval, K Chesney.

Referee: Dave Pearson (England)

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Out Of Sorts And Out Of Heineken.

January 17, 2011 12:00 am By Munster Rugby

Out Of Sorts And Out Of Heineken.

Munster’s effort to reach the Heineken Cup knock-outs for a successive 13th time, ended at the Stade Felix Mayol on Sunday when they were beaten 32-16 by the Jonny Wilkinson Joe Van Niekerk inspired RC Toulon.

And if that final scoreline flattered either side it was Munster, whose only try of the game came in the 78th minute courtesy of David Wallace. Except for a period at the start of the game when they took the lead with a Ronan O'Gara penalty, Munster were second best in every facet of play. Toulon controlled this

They bossed the expected collisions, played the cleverer rugby and took their opportunities while Munster never really took any ownership of the occasion and allowed themselves be rattled to such an extent that they played 20 minutes of the game with 14 after Donncha O'Callaghan and O'Gara were yellow carded.

O'Callaghan can have no argument for his moment of silliness in the 33rd minute at a time when his side, although not playing especially well were hanging-in there. By the time he returned, they were out of contention, trailing by 20 points.

O'Callaghan's sideline perch can't have cooled before it was being occupied by O'Gara but in this instance the out-half's obvious annoyance with the decision was completely justified. He had gotten himself involved in a fairly innocuous wrestle with scrum-half Pierre Mignoni, a situation exacerbated when Felipe Contepomi arrived to needlessly get involved with O'Gara, yet referee Dave Pearson, having consulted his assistant on the touchline, proffered just one card.

At that stage Paul Warwick was already benched, leaving Munster with a massive mountain to climb.

In truth they never looked likely to trouble the home side from there on in and Wilkinson's 60th minute penalty, although only his side's second score of the half, was more than enough to see Toulon through.

People looking for turning points will look at the Toulon tries in the 23rd and 37th minutes, neither of which will even make the nominated list for try of the competition.

The first came courtesy of a Mignoni chip over the top that Christian Loamanu showed the greater hunger for and the second came after it seemed Toulon had butchered a try scoring opportunity with men over yet that Paul Sackey still managed to turn into a seven pointer evading several Munster tackles as he scrambled his way to the tryline.

Wilkinson kicked four penalties, three in the space of eight minutes – before he landed two conversions – leaving Munster supporters with the ominous feeling that Toulon were more than confident that their pack could exert enough pressure to provide their out-half with the necessary opportunity that he rarely declines.

And so it proved. Allied to that, Munster never caused the Toulon defence any great bother, or when they tried to, the did from far too deep in the Munster half of the field.

The outcome of this one was decided long long before the final whistle. And that's what will rankle most. It was such an un-Munsterlike performance. And no-one knows that better or will be harder on themselves than the players.

Afterwards, O'Gara although admitting he felt the yellow card wasn't merited, wasn't making any excuses."The better side won, simple as that. Yes we'd be disappointed with our performance. This is a huge competition for us. This was a huge game and we came off second best. We expected more of oursleves.

"But credit them (Toulon). They're a very good side. They've great support here. Played exceptionally well and that has to be recognised."

Munster: P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, S Tuitupou, J Murphy; R O'Gara, P Stringer; W du Preez, D Varley, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, J Coughlan, D Wallace, D Leamy (capt). Replacements: L Mafi for Warwick (h-t), T Buckley for Hayes (47 mins), T O'Leary for Stringer (49 mins), D Ryan for Coughlan (54 mins), M O'Driscoll for O'Callaghan (61 mins), Darragh Hurley for du Preez (73 mins), N Ronan for O'Connell (74 mins), M Sherry for Varley (78 mins). Sinbinned: O'Callaghan (33 mins), O'Gara (48-58 mins).

Toulon: R Wulf; P Sackey, G Lovobalavu, F Contepomi, C Loamanu; J Wilkinson, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli, S Bruno, D Kubriashvili, C Samson, D Schofield, J Fernandez Lobbe, G Smith, J van Niekerk (capt). Replacements: K Chesney for Samson (32 mins – h-t), for Schofield (61 mins), S Taumoepeau for Emmanuelli (53 mins), L Magnaval for Mignoni (59 mins), J Orioli for Bruno (60 mins), R Lamont for Loamanu (65 mins), F Auelua for Lovobalavu (72 mins), J El Abd for Smith (74 mins). Not used: M Merabet. Sinbinned: Kubriashvili (65 mins).

Referee: Dave Pearson.

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