O'Connor has no crumbs of comfort for Munster ahead of Toulon clash
IF MUNSTER were looking for solace ahead of their visit to play the champions in Marseilles, they weren't getting much of it from Matt O'Connor.
Having just exited the quarter-finals of Europe to Toulon at the Stade Mayol for the second year in succession, the Australian is perhaps better placed than any to prime his great rivals for the monster task they face by the Mediterranean.
The three-time champions were chewed up and spat out yesterday by a side who should be able to add Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams, Chris Masoe and unused replacement Bryan Habana to their ranks by the time Munster come to town.
The last Irish side standing need all the help they can get against the mega-rich holders and, while he didn't rule out a potential famous victory, O'Connor clearly sees it as a long shot.
"Munster always have a chance, don't they?" he said.
"They will be incredibly hard to beat, but they probably don't have the class that that Toulon side has got and they have big-name players with a lot of Test experience; guys who are performing week on week in the Top 14 so it will be a fair battle but you would imagine Toulon would win."
Mike Ross and the rest of the huge Ireland contingent in Leinster's team have spent the last two months competing with the best Europe has to offer on the international stage, but this appeared to be a step up again.
"Their squad list reads like a world XV," he said. "They are very physical and a very big side.
"You had to be absolutely spot on in your tackle or else you were going to be committing two or three into the tackle and once you do that you are short elsewhere.
"They are probably one of the biggest sides I have ever played against. You have Steffon Armitage who is over 110kg and with a very low centre of gravity and once he latches on to the ball he is very hard to shift."
The younger Armitage brother had a field day at the breakdown and Munster, likely to be without Peter O'Mahony, will need a plan to deal with himself and Mathieu Bastareaud.
"You can't afford to give them momentum," O'Connor reflected.
"They have got some very, very good players and they feed off each other quite well and it's pretty unrelenting at times. They got a couple of soft tries that we would be disappointed about and you can't concede points that easily when you're working really hard to stay in the contest."
"We didn't really fire any shots, which was disappointing. They made it hard for us to play obviously and we didn't get a lot of love at the breakdown.
"Steffon Armitage was very, very good. He slowed our ball and won a lot of turnovers and that made it hard to get any momentum."
As Brian O'Driscoll and three-time winning captain Leo Cullen bid farewell to the European arena, O'Connor was not ready to condemn Leinster to the scrap heap just yet.
"I think we got a really good group. There's some big names moving obviously but the core of that group will be there and be there for a long time. So it's not all doom and gloom," he concluded.
Heineken Cup semi-finals
Saturday, April 26
Saracens v ASM Clermont Auvergne
Twickenham Stadium (capacity: 82,000) 3.40;
Sunday, April 27
Toulon v Munster Rugby
Stade Vélodrome, Marseille (capacity: 41,000) 4.30;
Saturday, May 24; Millennium Stadium Cardiff, 5.0