MUNSTER WILL HAVE enjoyed their celebrations last night, but attention will swiftly move on to the challenges that await in the near future.
There are two important RaboDirect Pro12 fixtures to be played in the next two weekends, but thereafter a Heineken Cup semi-final against the winner of today’s Toulon v Leinster clash will dominate the focus.
Following his side’s magnificent 47-23 victory over Toulouse at Thomond Park yesterday, Munster second row Paul O’Connell said either opponent would provide an exacting test.
“It is very hard to pick [who he would like to play]. We were completely dominated by Leinster last week and Toulon are an incredibly big side. You’d probably love to stay in Ireland and keep it an All-Ireland semi-final, but it is too hard to pick. They are such great sides, both of them.”
One reporter at Thomond Park suggested that Munster will fear no team as they move forward in this competition, but O’Connell begged to differ.
I wouldn’t say that. We’re probably the smallest team left in the competition now. I think you look at the size of the other teams, even Toulouse [yesterday], who are a lot bigger than us.
“We didn’t get a look in last week against Leinster, but this was a step up for us. It’s a challenge for us now to maintain that kind of consistency in both the Rabo and the Heineken Cup going forward.”
Despite the relative lack of size in his pack against the Toulouse mammoths yesterday, O’Connell was thrilled with the manner in which his fellow forwards went about their work.
The French side came off second best at the scrum, while Munster’s maul savaged les Toulousains throughout the game.
“It was brilliant,” says O’Connell. “Technically we have a very good maul. At all the Irish provinces, it is something they work very hard on and we certainly got a lot of reward from it, particularly when we came out in the second half.
“It probably laid the foundations for two early tries that put us in a great position. Once you get a maul going, it can be very hard to stop. We were really efficient in how we mauled. The bad weather in the morning wasn’t the worst thing that happened to us because we were preparing for a day where we would have to maul a lot.
We had a lot of mauling options in our game and it is a great feeling to be part of it. Having been on the other side of it, it is really disheartening for the other team. It was a great way to start the second-half.”
And yet all of that good work at the maul – as well as at the breakdown, where Munster won nine turnovers – needed to be turned into scores and territorial gains by the province’s backline.
O’Connell was enthused by what he saw from the players wearing numbers nine to 15.
“The backs were excellent. A lot of the ball you get in rugby matches now isn’t off set-piece any more, it’s off turnovers and balls won on the ground. When we did turn the ball over and when we did win it, the backs were excellent.
“Earlsie, Zebo, Casey, Keats, James – all the boys were really, really good off turnover ball. It is probably the fourth set-piece you need to be good at and they were excellent.”