Muldoon warns Munster Toulouse are on the rise
Connacht captain John Muldoon has warned Munster that Toulouse are an improving force who will cause them problems in their Thomond Park quarter-final.
The French side booked their place in the last eight thanks to their 19-10 victory over the Guinness Pro12 champions on Sunday, and their reward is a return to Limerick for their first knock-out game since they lost 47-23 there in 2014.
Four-time European champions, Toulouse have not been the force of old in recent years but Muldoon has been poring over footage of their recent games and reckons Ugo Mola's men have turned a corner.
Munster are riding the crest of a wave having won 12 of their last 13 games and are the second seeds in the quarter-final line-up. They'll fancy their chances of booking their place in the semi-final when the game rolls around in April, but Muldoon reckons Toulouse are in with a shout.
"Thomond Park, Heineken Cup. . . you know the history," he said. "Toulouse have huge history too and if you give them an opportunity they'll take it. We've been watching their games and in the last few weeks. . . I don't know what's gone on, but they've gone back to the club of old.
"They're throwing the ball around and the flair is back. When they have that French flair and that capability with those big forwards up front and they start mixing it, anything is possible.
"But Thomond Park in a quarter-final, Jesus, you wouldn't like to be going there. Munster will be fancying their chances. We're just disappointed we're not in there. That would have been some day: Thomond Park, Connacht v Munster. . ."
It wasn't to be and for Muldoon and Connacht the mission is to get back in Europe's top competition next season.
It won't be easy given the heightened competition in the Pro12, and last year's winners are playing catch-up as a result of a slow start to the campaign.
The top six qualify automatically for the Champions Cup and the Six Nations window is key to Connacht turning their season around.
Pat Lam is targeting six wins in his next six games and as the lengthy injury list eases, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"We're disappointed, but you have to remember that we've won four games in the Champions Cup on the back of qualifying for the competition through our own work last season," Muldoon said.
"We have to get some wins in the Pro12 and make sure that we're back in this competition next year. This time last year we went on a run of five (wins) out of five with five bonus points and ultimately that probably won us the league; we need to start winning some games."
And he believes that going so close in the pool stages will stand to the team in future.
"It's a great experience for us. We talk about game management and experience and when you take old Tom McCartney and young John Muldoon out, we've a very young, inexperienced team," Muldoon said.
"Without being disrespectful to any of the lads, Craig (Ronaldson) was playing for Lansdowne two or three seasons ago, so was Matt (Healy) and they're inexperienced in terms of big-game situations like this.
"Bundee (Aki) would have been a big influence against Toulouse and we have a lot of lads coming back over the next few weeks.
"Look, I don't want to talk about injuries, play the poor man's thing but it has disrupted us. Over the last couple of weeks we've been getting more and more lads back. You've been seeing it in the performances, they've been getting better the last few weeks.
"Unfortunately, you're looking at lads standing on the wing and you're wondering 'who the hell is this fella?' That's the way it's been over the last few weeks. Thankfully we're coming to the other side of that."