Munster can leave Marseille with the right result in this weekend’s mammoth Heineken Cup Semi-Final clash with Toulon, writes former Heineken Cup winner and Munster star Anthony Horgan.
There’s no doubt about it. Munster are going into this weekend’s game with Toulon as underdogs. However, this is a tag that has suited Munster in the past. To say that there’s no pressure is rubbish; there’s always massive expectation at Munster. I don’t think you would have six or seven thousand fans travelling to Marseille without expecting a good performance.
Can they do it? Absolutely.
Munster will have learned a lot from Leinster’s loss to Toulon. They will know that they can’t afford to sit back and leave Toulon run at them. The French side are far too strong. You look at their team from one to fifteen and they are all superstars. They’re a big side but I don’t think Munster will have any fear going down there. I read this morning that Munster have played seven out of eleven semi-finals away from home and this will stand to the side.
Munster will be quietly confident travelling to France. Having spoken to a few of the lads, there seems to be a great buzz around the camp this week. They’re going down there to play ball. Last season’s unexpected win at The Stoop will obviously stand to the squad but Rob Penney’s side are a team that are always looking forward and won’t use the win as a reference.
Peter O’ Mahony is obviously a huge loss, but CJ Stander has been superb since stepping in against Toulouse. They’ll be looking for a big performance from CJ again but if Munster are to leave Marseille with a win, all 1 – 23 will need to perform. It’s not out of their reach.
A lot of the build-up has been dominated by the possibility of Conor Murray having to take the kicks if Keatley succumbs to injury. JJ is obviously a loss but Conor has been there and done it before. He’s a world class player. He wouldn’t be asked to do the job if he wasn’t able to do it. There are other 10s in the squad but the feeling within the camp is that Conor can do the job if he’s asked to step up.
There will be a number of key battles throughout the game and one such battle is Casey Laulala squaring up to Mathieu Bastareaud. Bastareaud is the kind of player that you need to be up front and aggressive with. If you give the Frenchman space to run there’s a good chance he’ll run straight through you. Without stating the obvious, 10,12, and 13 just have to get into the Toulon faces and deny them space. They just cannot afford to give the French side time on the ball. The current Heineken Cup holders will make Munster suffer if given the chance.
The Connacht win over the weekend was a boost, but there were a few cracks in the Munster performance. I think it’s very easy to take the foot off the pedal when you build up a lead like that and teams lose focus. If Munster are in the same position this Sunday, they cannot afford to do the same. Saying that, I’m confident the team will be fully focused for the entire eighty minutes this weekend. It’s in their hands. They’ve spoken about Toulon all week but now is the time to concentrate on themselves and worry about their own game.
Don’t get me wrong, Toulon have an incredible squad at their disposal. However, every team has weak points. Munster need to get a feel for the game for the first fifteen minutes and then pinpoint exactly where Toulon’s weaknesses lie. You could study mountains of videos, but ultimately the performance on the day means everything.
All twenty-three of Munster’s players need to turn up on the day and play out of their skins, something that I’m confident they will.If Munster can get a foothold on the game in the first fifteen minutes, they have a fantastic chance of reaching their first final in six years.
It’s time to stand up and fight.
Anthony Horgan, Pundit Arena.
The teams for Sunday’s Heineken Cup clash have been announced:
Munster: F Jones; K Earls, C Laulala, J Downey, S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, D Varley (capt), BJ Botha; D Foley, P O’Connell; CJ Stander, S Dougall, J Coughlan. Replacements: D Casey, J Cronin, J Ryan, D O’Callaghan, T O’Donnell, D Williams, JJ Hanrahan, D Hurley.
Toulon: D Armitage; D Mitchell, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, B Habana; J Wilkinson (capt), S Tillous Borde; X Chiocci, C Burden, C Hayman; J Suta, D Rossouw; J Smith, J Fernandez Lobbe, S Armitage. Replacements: JC Orioli, A Menini, M Castrogiovanni, V Bruni, D Smith, M Mermoz, M Claassens, K Mikautadze.