Saturday 18 November 2017

Denis Leamy: Munster tradition can trump Toulon talent to achieve impossible again

The redevelopment works at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille where Munster take on Toulon in the Heineken Cup on Sunday
The redevelopment works at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille where Munster take on Toulon in the Heineken Cup on Sunday

Denis Leamy

Winning in Marseille on Sunday would be right up there with anything Munster have ever done in the Heineken Cup.

Toulon are just so powerful it is hard to see the areas where Munster might have the advantage over them, but collectively it might be a different story.

A year ago Munster were being told that they hadn't a chance against Clermont Auvergne, that the big-money side from the French league were just too powerful to be stopped and all that. And yet it was a game Munster were in to the end, and they could easily have won it.

This week the players will have been hearing the same thing, but now they are a year older and have the experience of playing a Heineken Cup semi-final in France under their belt.

They will look back at that game against Clermont and see where they might have won it, what extra yard they need to go this time round. They will take a lot of heart from that.

They will also take a lot from how well they have done again this season to qualify, doing it the hard way after losing their opening game. This side has been building for a few years now and they will feel their time has come.

Toulon have assembled a vast array of global talent – they can bring on an international to replace an international. But it will not have gone unnoticed in Munster that they choked in the last two Top 14 finals and, let's face it, Clermont should probably have beaten them in last year's Heineken Cup final as well.

Guys like Paul O'Connell are made for this environment. He will set a massive standard all this week.

Players will also draw from the experience of others like Donncha O'Callaghan and Denis Hurley, who know what it is like to play in a winning Heineken Cup final team.

Munster have been down this road many times before: their build-up will be impeccable, they will know how much emotion to work into the equation, they will revel in their underdog status and they will draw inspiration from each other.

It's hard to believe that only three of Munster's Heineken Cup semi-finals have been in Ireland – and two of those were against Leinster.

It's remarkable that this will be the eighth time in 11 semi-finals that Munster have had to play outside Ireland, but that is just the way it has fallen.

Stade Velodrome is a home ground for Toulon – they play a couple of games there each season – but Munster supporters will travel in huge numbers and will make sure they are seen and heard. Just like Paulie, they are made for this environment.

It will be so crucial that Munster start well and stay in the game. This Toulon side is not one you want to be trying to catch. Munster just need to get over the opening 20 minutes, then get to 40, to 60 – create the doubt in Toulon's mind and then go for the kill.

It is easier said than done but it has been done before. They will need to be disciplined and not give cheap penalties away, least of all to Jonny Wilkinson.

He will slot them over from all angles, but for a team with so much talent Toulon really do depend a lot on their kickers. They just seem to bludgeon teams and then pick off the points.

Tackles will have to count every single time, rucks hit accurately and with impact, and scrums will require maximum effort every time. It will be that sort of game. Munster know that and it will have been drilled into them over and over again in the past couple of weeks.

Toulon are beatable but only if you attain that high level of execution. Munster have done that in the past, several times, and that is why the task this weekend, if accomplished, will be right up there with anything they have ever done.

Toulon will look to the quality of the stars they have assembled and, in fairness, it is an impressive list, but Munster will look to their tradition in this competition, their history of achieving the impossible before.

They came close last year when nobody gave them a chance. Munster have often revelled in that environment and they will feel the time is right for them to do it again.

They will believe that their time has come. Let's hope it has. Wouldn't it be some win?

Irish Independent

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