As Munster prepare for their biggest game of the season Paul O’ Connell has made comparisons between this week’s preparations and preparations similar to a game against against New Zealand.
There is no doubting the enormity of the task that is currently facing the Red Army. They head to the South of France to take on Toulon, the reigning Heineken Cup champions and very few have given them any hope of making it to the final. That said there are pockets of Thomond who boldly claim if anyone can go to France, defy the odds, and beat Toulon – it will be Munster.
Yet the game is much more important than Munster overcoming the doubters and reaching another Heineken Cup final. In Toulon, Munster face an extremely strong force in rugby.
Toulon have done things in an alternative manner. They have spent excessively and built a team of superstars. Led by Jonny Wilkinson, their back line is formidable with the likes of Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana all being drafted in to add sheer force and flair. In the pack they have strength in abundance and enviable power with the Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha and Steffon Armitage all quality operators.
Instead of relying on youth and blooding youngsters, Toulon have relied on money and have bought their way to titles and championships. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but its success cannot be denied.
If we then look at Munster, it’s almost the opposite. Munster have done things in quite a traditional way. They have blooded their youngsters through the academy and blended these players with some international flair.
They have of course been lucky that some of their youngsters have grown into world class players such as Paul O’ Connell. But they also have the likes of Conor Murray, Tommy O’ Donnell, Keith Earls and Simon Zebo who are quality international stars. BJ Botha and Casey Laulala have added some Southern Hemisphere quality to the ranks, but Munster is a club that heavily relies on their academy.
The Munster way is the purist’s way, the traditionalist’s way. The Toulon way is a new brand. It is the billionaire’s brand and it is heading down a similar road of football where wealthy businessmen invest in clubs as pet projects meaning greed grows and loyalty is thrown out the window.
Therefore Munster are playing for rugby as we know it. If Toulon are to make a second final in two years, it will mean the wealthy way is working., and that merely pumping money into a club can make it successful. This can cause clubs to lose their heart, spirit and character. But if Munster win it means that a club with community spirit, good grassroots and a modest budget can still be a powerhouse in the rugby world.
That is why Munster will have the neutrals’ backing. The rugby world would be a little less great if it became overrun with billionaire owners. If the likes of Mourad Boudjellal become more prominent in the rugby world it will become a little easier to fall out of love with the sport. That is why Munster needs to win. And if anyone can defy the odds – it will be Munster.
Stand up and fight!
Steve Neville, 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.