Tuesday 23 January 2018

Munster aim to take big spenders down a peg

Triumph over Toulon essential for McGahan's men after opening reverse

Munster's Doug Howlett takes on three opponents
during a squad training session earlier in the week.
Munster's Doug Howlett takes on three opponents during a squad training session earlier in the week.

THERE'S a story involving two members of the current Munster squad who were holidaying in Australia and decided to call into David Campese's shop.

Much to their delight, the great man -- one of the finest wingers to ever wear rugby shorts -- was on the premises and, quickly digging out their camera, the Munster men went over to him.

"Sorry David, any chance we could get a picture?"

"Sure guys, no problem."

Campese was pretty taken aback when the lads handed him the camera -- "it's the button on the top right"-- and posed arm-in-arm with thumbs up in front of him.

"Okay Campo, shoot away boy."

Whatever about the two lads on a jolly, when it comes to on-pitch business Munster have the same capacity to take self-aggrandising opponents down a peg or two -- particularly in Thomond Park -- and they get another opportunity this afternoon when Toulon run out in Limerick (3.30).

While the pre-match billing of honest, home-grown yeomanry playing for the pride of the province against an army of money-fuelled, overseas mercenaries has been a bit overplayed in the media, it's foundation lies in stark reality. Toulon's staggering financial resources have allowed them to assemble a squad in a manner that Munster second-row Donncha O'Callaghan this week likened to "fantasy rugby."

While scrum-half Pierre Mignoni and loose-head prop Laurent Emmanuelli are Toulon boys by birth, this side comprises players from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, England and, in the case of second-row Jocelino Suta, the Wallis and Futuna Islands.

By contrast, 11 of Munster's starting 15 were born and reared in the province, the exceptions being Paul Warwick (Australia), Doug Howlett (New Zealand), Wian Du Preez (South Africa) and Johne Murphy (Kildare). While representing your home parish may not be as relevant as physical size or footballing ability, it is still a powerful motivating factor and one that can make the difference in tense contests such as this one.


Munster need every advantage they can get, as defeat today would be catastrophic to their hopes of emerging from this pool of horrors. The seemingly ceaseless stream of withdrawals through injuries and suspensions makes the task all the harder and today's match squad is the best available in trying circumstances.

Coach Tony McGahan has decided to mix things up after last weekend's defeat at London Irish, bringing in back-row heavyweights Alan Quinlan and David Wallace and line-out specialist Mick O'Driscoll in the second-row.

While James Coughlan and Niall Ronan (for the 30 minutes he was on) went very well in Reading, restoring Quinlan and Wallace to the back-row appears to have been done on a pragmatic 'horses for courses' basis.

If Munster are to tap into the fact that Toulon's priority this season is the Top 14, they need to subdue them early on, build up a lead and bank on the visitors losing focus.

Quinlan and Wallace are tailor-made for this task and if all goes to plan and the game opens up in the second-half, then the footballing skills and mobility of Coughlan and Ronan can be brought to bear.

Similarly, O'Driscoll's selection makes sense, given the line-out woes last weekend. To put problems in Reading down to the throwing of hooker Damien Varley is to over-simplify matters, other relevant factors included excellent London Irish pressure, missed lifts and incorrect calling.

O'Driscoll, as he did when introduced off the bench last weekend, has been brought in to steady the ship and provide the platform out-half Ronan O'Gara needs to execute the most effective attacking plays.

Murphy has been an unqualified success at outside centre, winger and full- back and is now asked to play in his fourth position this season following Sam Tuitupou's suspension.

He does not have the same crash-ball qualities as Tuitupou, but Murphy gives the midfield an extra attacking dimension alongside Earls, who should be better for his run last weekend when his attacking threat was as evident as his match fitness was not.

Warwick was the natural choice at 15 once Murphy moved and the Australian will be looking for a big game after a difficult evening in the Aviva against Leinster.

Toulon coach Philippe Saint-Andre has made a raft of changes to the side that accounted for the Ospreys last weekend but, with a wage bill around the €7m mark, he can still name a team packed with potency.

Felipe Contepomi and Pierre Mignoni form a canny half-back partnership -- and one the Munster back-row will be intent on disrupting -- while the pace and verve of Paul Sackey and Rudi Wulf has to be marshalled carefully out wide.

They have a no nonsense front five, spear-headed by the colossal Carl Hayman at tight-head prop and Du Preez has his work cut out for him at scrum time.

Wallace knows all about the enduring qualities of his opposite number George Smith, while Toulon captain Joe Van Niekerk is a top-class operator and Munster must ensure he does not build up momentum, because he will drag his team-mates along with him.

The most intriguing selection is Fotu Auelua at inside centre. The 26-year-old is an 18-stone battering ram that is normally employed in the back-row and his selection suggests a Toulon intention of running hard at Munster's 10-12 channel.

O'Gara was similarly targeted last weekend and coped admirably in a good collective defensive display, the line only being breached through a freak intercept try.

Jonny Wilkinson lurks menacingly on the bench and the home side will hope they have built up enough of a margin before the English talisman's inevitable introduction.

For Munster to prevail, all the usual areas of set-piece proficiency, competitiveness at the breakdown, defensive surety and staying on the right side of referee Wayne Barnes will have to be in place. All week, the Munster camp has been urging the 16th man to make their presence felt and this promises to be a typically thunderous European occasion in Thomond Park.

Munster have only lost one Heineken Cup match at this ground, a dead rubber to Leicester in 2007. They need a backlash and, roared on by their home support, have the capacity to provide one -- the alternative is being out of Europe in October. Picture that.

Verdict: Munster

MUNSTER -- P Warwick; D Howlett, K Earls, J Murphy, D Hurley; R O'Gara, P Stringer; W du Preez, D Varley, T Buckley; D O'Callaghan, M O'Driscoll; A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy (capt). Reps: J Flannery, M Horan, J Hayes, D Ryan, J Coughlan, N Ronan, D Williams, S Deasy.

TOULON -- C Marienval; P Sackey, M Kefu, F Auelua, R Wulf; F Contepomi, P Mignoni; L Emmanuelli, JP Philippe Genevois, C Hayman; J Suta, K Chesney; G Smith, J El Abd, J van Niekerk (capt). Reps: M Ivaldi, S Taumoepeau, D Kubriashvili, O Missoup, G Lovobalavu, J Wilkinson, L Magnaval, D Schofield,

REF -- W Barnes (England)

Munster v Toulon,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 3.30

Highlights, RTE 2, 9.30

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