Sunday 21 January 2018

We know we are capable of matching the very best

Conor Murray slips past a tackle by Paul O'Connell during squad training ahead of Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulon on Sunday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Conor Murray slips past a tackle by Paul O'Connell during squad training ahead of Munster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulon on Sunday. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Rob Penney

These are exciting times for sure. Two days out from a Heineken Cup semi-final in the south of France against a fine side like Toulon, the challenge doesn't get any bigger or better than this.

It is a huge game for all of us. The Toulouse game a few weeks back was massive at Thomond Park, but this one is on a par with Clermont last year in the semi-final.

All in all, we are happy with our preparation and we believe that we are ready to head to Marseille in good shape for what will be a massive challenge.

Last week's victory up in Galway worked out as great preparation for us. Connacht are not a side to be underestimated: they've beaten Toulouse away this year, they've had a good run of victories in recent months. So for us to get that victory with a bonus point and to pick up no fresh injuries on what was a balmy evening was very good preparation for us.

I thought we were pretty good right across the board and some stand-out performances by some individuals was very good to see. We were very happy with how our players showed commitment to each other and how we wanted to play. The lads showed great maturity and played a really nice brand of rugby to get a good result, which has put us back in second place in the Rabo standings.

But this Sunday's challenge is a far greater one against the defending European champions. Toulon have already spoken about targeting the double this year, so it means they will be preparing very well in trying to achieve their goals.

What impresses me every time I watch them play is that they are a team full of talent and full of experience, and they really understand what they are trying to achieve.

They have got a great work ethic and really work hard for each other. You can really see them put in that extra bit of effort required to get a result.

They are a big, physical side but they also have maturity and experience. It's not as if they are a bunch of big, young guys that are thrown in the deep end. They are big, experienced, well-hardened individuals.

Having said that, since last year's semi-final, I think there is an understanding in our group that our guys can compete and perform well at this level. We know that if we prepare well, get our minds into the right place, we are capable of delivering a top-shelf performance.

And that's exactly what we are going to need this week. Everybody has to have a laser focus and be prepared to probably work harder than a lot of them have ever worked before. We didn't get the result against Clermont because we weren't good enough on the day. We are going to have to go up another notch from that to try to get the victory.

Today is our travel day and we fly out to Marseille this afternoon. It will be nice to be in place and get used to our surroundings before the game. Playing in the south of France, there is always the fear that the weather conditions will be oppressive at this time of the year, but I'm told it has been quite mild down there this spring without being too hot which suits us fine.

The Toulon home ground of the Stade Mayol is famed for its atmosphere, and playing away from home just an hour or so's drive down the road for them, in Stade Velodrome, isn't likely to dampen their enthusiasm. The stadium will be electric, but for us playing away from Thomond will not be a major hurdle.

It will be a wonderful honour and privilege to be representing this great club on overseas soil once again.

We also know we will not be there alone, the massive and passionate Munster supporters will be with us, by our side, taking blow for blow, until we hear the final whistle.

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