Friday 20 October 2017

'I hope I will be there because it's a great stadium with a great atmosphere' - Toulouse star relishing Thomond challenge

Thierry Dusautoir of Toulouse is tackled by Nepia Fox-Matamua of Connacht during yesterday’s Champions Cup clash at Stade Ernest Wallon. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Thierry Dusautoir of Toulouse is tackled by Nepia Fox-Matamua of Connacht during yesterday’s Champions Cup clash at Stade Ernest Wallon. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

If Thierry Dusautoir is concerned about Toulouse's return to Thomond Park, he's not showing it.

Throughout his storied career for club and country, the former France captain's face has always been a picture of calm amid whatever storm he's enduring and a first trip to Limerick isn't going to faze him.

He missed out on his club's last visit and so does not carry the scars of the 47-23 defeat his club suffered at the hands of Munster in 2014.

Remarkably, that was the last time either of these European giants made the knockout stages. With six titles between them, few clubs are more synonymous with the success of the tournament, yet they've been through lean times.

It's fitting that on their return to the big time they'll meet again.

Only five of the starting XV from that 2014 team were involved against Connacht yesterday, as Toulouse did just about enough to qualify from their pool. Both coaching tickets have changed utterly and Munster have also seen a lot of change in the three seasons since.

Munster's Paul O'Connell is congratulated by team-mates John Ryan, JJ Hanrahan and Ian Keatley after scoring his side's sixth try against Toulouse at Thomond in 2014
Munster's Paul O'Connell is congratulated by team-mates John Ryan, JJ Hanrahan and Ian Keatley after scoring his side's sixth try against Toulouse at Thomond in 2014

Reaching the quarter-finals by beating Zebre twice and Connacht once is not a record that will have Munster trembling, but Dusautoir says they will travel without fear despite their recent experience.

"We've just qualified, so we're not thinking about it (2014)," he said. "Most of the guys who played in Munster are not there now. You have to think that it's the same club, but they're not the same teams any more.

"We're going to recover, to enjoy this moment because it's a long time since we've been in a quarter-final. We're going to think about our championship because next weekend we have a big game against Pau.

"After that, a break of two weeks, so we can think about the quarter-final then."

Dusautoir has been impressed by what he has seen of Munster so far this season, acknowledging the emotional bond that has spurred them on since the death of Anthony Foley and the impressive on-pitch form of Rassie Erasmus' men.

However, that's not to say he doesn't fancy his side's chances.

"They really managed their pool well," he said.

"I know they had very difficult moments with the loss of Anthony Foley, but it's like that has made them stronger.

"All the people from Cork and Limerick are behind them, as always, but it's even more and more this year. We know that it's going to be hard. They had a great game against Racing.

"We're going to take our chance. It's a quarter-final and we can hope for something nice for Stade Toulousain."

For the 35-year-old Dusautoir, it promises to be a special occasion as, fitness permitting, he makes his first appearance at the venue in the twilight of his career.

"I hope I will be there because it's a great stadium with a great atmosphere," he said. "I've never played there, so for me it would be really nice to experience that.

"I hope the guys will help me to have a good memory, but it's going to be really, really hard for us and will need a big effort from Toulouse."

Although the pool stages have struggled to get going in this year's Champions Cup, the quarter-final line-up is an exciting one.

As well as the clash of Munster and Toulouse, Leinster will welcome Wasps to Dublin, while Saracens host Glasgow and Clermont face Toulon.

The venues and kick-off times for those games will be confirmed in the coming days, with the fixtures scheduled for the weekend of March 31-April 2. The balance of home and away semi-finals will be determined by the line-up, given EPCR's policy of rewarding away wins in the last eight.

That means the clubs and provinces will have just two weeks to get together after the Six Nations comes to a close on March 18, something that is bound to affect the Irish provinces and Glasgow more than the Top 14 and Premiership clubs.

"You come off a pretty big Six Nations game, Ireland v England, and then you're into a Guinness Pro12 game against Cardiff at the RDS and then the quarter-final," Leinster coach Leo Cullen said.

"It's tough, but that's why players do all of the work to play in this period. It's exciting, Ireland v England. Hopefully there's a lot at stake for the lads and then you take a breath and you're into a huge quarter-final.

"We had break weekends last year, but which would you rather?"

Leinster are likely to host Wasps at the Aviva Stadium in order to maximise the revenue from their return to the last eight, after the English side helped knock them out at the pool stage last season.

They played their last home quarter-final against Bath at the venue.

"After playing Wasps twice in last season's Champions Cup we are fully aware of the tough challenge that awaits us," Cullen said.

"Dai Young has recruited heavily once again during the summer and his team are currently sitting at the top of the Aviva Premiership.

"We know as a group that we need to continue to improve to ensure we are able to give a true account of our abilities.

"Reaching the last eight is fantastic, but it is just another step towards the club's goal of replicating Toulouse's achievement of winning four European titles. It's a challenge that we are all looking forward to hugely."

 

Meanwhile, a disappointed Connacht full-back Tiernan O'Halloran (above) reckons Munster have a strong chance of returning to the semi-finals when they face Toulouse.

Having beaten the four-time champions at home and gone so close to knocking them out away from home yesterday, the Ireland international is backing the Reds' form to carry them through.

"The way Munster are playing they can beat anybody," he said.

"Against Toulouse it's just such a physical battle. It was the same in the first game back in the Sportsgounds. It was so physical, they are massive lads and it is often a case of two of our lads tackling one of them.

"You saw that in the first-half as well. They just rumbled through us a few times and it is very hard to stop them when they get momentum.

"But then you could see there at the end that they tired a small bit, but we couldn't capitalise at crucial times when we maybe had an overlap or should have switched back in play.

"They have got internationals all over the pitch and they are massively physical, but Munster are well able to take anyone the way they are going."

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