Payne backing former club to emulate his success in province
Former Munster player and manager Shaun Payne believes the Reds are poised to go all the way this season and claim their third European title.
The South African was full-back when Munster finally made their European breakthrough and beat Biarritiz to lift the Heineken Cup title in 2006.
And two years later Payne was team manager when Munster edged out Toulouse to claim their second crown.
Since then Munster have suffered the agony of five semi-final defeats but Payne, who returned home to South Africa since 2012, believes this is the year they can finally achieve what he had honour of doing twice.
"They can go the whole way. I saw them against a very good Toulon team, and Toulon actually played very well.
"There are a number of obstacles in the way, not least Racing. But if they are lucky enough to get past that challenge in Bordeaux - and they are good enough to do that - then there is no reason they can't go the whole way."
Payne, who is based in his native Cape Town, made the five-hour road journey to support his former side when they defeated the Southern Kings in George a couple of weeks ago.
He was given a rapturous welcome when he and his family were spotted coming into Outeniqua Park by the more than 200 Munster supporters who made the trip to South Africa.
Payne, who scored 90 points in his 109 appearances for Munster, said he can see a number of comparisons between the current crop and the group he tasted glory with over a decade ago.
"I do. The fact they managed to overcome Toulon who, on the day, on paper, was a stronger team.
"They played really well too. But also on the day to win under that pressure and really close at the end, and a really good try from Andrew Conway. A very un-Munster try but it was brilliant," said the 46-year old.
Payne, who joined Munster in 2003, became the province's first full-time manager when he retired from playing in the summer of 2007. He took over the reins from Jerry Holland - whose son Billy is Munster's most capped player in the current squad - who had fulfilled the role on a part-time basis during the formative years of the professional era.
Payne keeps up to date with everything happening in Munster and said he and his family will always be fans.
"We do catch all of the games here on television. And obviously this year with the Kings and Cheetahs having come into PRO14, all of those games are televised as well. We get to watch, my son is very interested as well."
He hasn't been back in Ireland since leaving in 2012 but a Munster victory in Bordeaux will change all that.
"Absolutely, we will have to come back for the final," added Payne.