Wednesday 28 June 2017

McAlister braced for return to 'intimidating' Thomond

Luke McAlister in action for Toulouse. Photo: Romain Perrocheau/Getty Images
Luke McAlister in action for Toulouse. Photo: Romain Perrocheau/Getty Images
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Luke McAlister's memories of playing in Thomond Park range from anywhere between unhappy to miserable but there was a time when the former All Black might have called the famous Limerick venue home.

Back in 2007, with McAlister in the prime of his career, Munster were among the many suitors but he eventually opted for Sale Sharks instead.

Ten years later, McAlister admits that he was tempted by the move to Munster, especially when he got a first taste of the atmosphere when Sale arrived in Thomond Park in 2009.

The English side were sent packing that night with McAllster kicking two penalties and his luck didn't get much better in 2014 when Toulouse were on the end of a similar drubbing.

Now 33, McAlister has played in his fair share of passionate stadiums but in his view, Thomond Park still ranks up there with the best.

"We got a good hiding that day (2014) so it wasn't a great experience and I played a few years previous with Sale and we got smashed as well," McAlister recalled this week.

"My record at Munster isn't great, it was a tough day. They got on a roll and put us away pretty early in that second half. They were pretty hard to stop that day."

Read more: 'You don't belong in a quarter-final, you've to work bloody hard for it' - O'Mahony relishing return to big time

With that in mind, there have been a few home truths told to some of the younger members of Toulouse's squad as they look to avoid suffering a similar fate as McAlister.

"We are coming over on Thursday so we'll probably go to the ground on Friday so the new boys and the younger boys can get a feel for the park," the outhalf-cum-inside centre explained.

"It's an atmosphere I've never experienced before. They don't say anything when you've got a shot at goal. It's the only stadium in the world where they do that.

"It's quite intimidating as a player but I'm sure the older boys will try to give the younger boys a heads up. It's a great experience and something the young boys are going to thrive on, I think. It's an awesome place, one of my favourite stadiums to play in."

Toulouse come into Saturday's Champions Cup quarter-final under massive pressure. The natives are restless and anyone who has been to watch rugby in the south of France will understand what that means exactly.

For Europe's most successful team, languishing in ninth place of the Top 14 table does not sit well with the supporters who are not afraid to make their feelings known to players when they bump into them on the street.

"There is a lot of negativity around the club at the moment, with us not doing so well," McAlister admitted.

"That's normal when a club like Toulouse aren't in the top half of the table. It's not normal for a club like this to be there.

"There is a lot of expectation around the club and we're probably the first to feel it. We're just trying to channel that negativity and not try and get too pressured by it.

"It's not easy to do but we're just trying to go out and there and play our best. It's just unfortunate that we are not getting results going our way.

"If we don't make the (top) six this year, it will be the first time that Toulouse never made the six in 40 years or whatever it is.

"We don't want to be in this position so it's a tough time for us at the moment, it's not easy.

"Going into this game there's going to be a lot more intensity, we know it's another level up. Hopefully with the experience we've got we can match it with them."

McAlister will come up against his fellow Kiwi Tyler Bleyendaal and his outstanding performances haven't gone unnoticed by a man who made a similar move to Europe at a similar age.

"He's killing it at the moment," McAlister added.

"He's doing really well. He's leading his side really well. He's driving them around the field well so he's obviously one that we need to watch out for."

Irish Independent

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