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Dublin: 5°C Friday 5 March 2021

'It's a tough time for us': Toulouse and McAlister out to lift gloom by upsetting Munster

The four-time winners return to the quarter-finals for the first time since their 2014 thrashing at Thomond Park.

Luke McAlister with Ian Keatley after the 2014 quarter-final.
Luke McAlister with Ian Keatley after the 2014 quarter-final.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THEY MAY BE the most decorated side in the competition but, make no mistake about it, Toulouse arrive in Limerick for Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final as a club in disarray.

These are difficult times for the four-time European champions having been on a steady downward spiral since last reigning supreme in 2010. Those glory days, under Guy Noves, are a distant memory now.

Sitting tenth in the Top 14 having won just once in their last five outings, Toulouse are in real danger of missing out on Champions Cup qualification for the first time and Saturday represents their last chance to salvage something from a forgettable season.

“There is a lot of negativity around the club at the moment, with us not doing so well. It has been a tough few months,” Luke McAlister admits.

“That’s normal when a club like Toulouse aren’t in the top half of the table. It’s not normal for a club like this. There is a lot of expectation around the club and we’re probably the first to feel it. We’re just trying to channel that negativity and not try and get too pressured by it.

“It’s not easy to do but we’re just trying to go out there and play our best. It’s just unfortunate that we are not getting results going our way. We don’t want to be in this position so it’s a tough time for us at the moment, it’s not easy.”

Things aren’t about to get any easier, either.

Bath’s George Ford and Toulouse’s  Luke McAlister McAlister is hoping to help his side into the semi-finals for the first time since 2011. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Saturday will be their first quarter-final appearance since 2014, when they incidentally travelled to Thomond Park. On that occasion, their decline was underlined as Munster ran riot to record a 47-23 victory.

McAlister’s boot had kept the French side in the contest that day as he kicked three penalties before the half-time interval, but Munster were a different beast on the restart and went onto score six tries.

“We got a good hiding that day so it wasn’t a great experience,” the All Black recalls. “And I played a few years previous with Sale and we got smashed as well. My record at Munster isn’t great, it was a tough day.

“They got on a roll and put us away pretty early in that second half. They were pretty hard to stop that day.”

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Toulouse will be desperate to avoid a repeat this time around as the two sides prepare to re-ignite their European rivalry. Saturday will be the sixth match between the two with four coming in the knock-out stages of the competition.

Munster hold the upper hand and with the southern province winning seven of their eight home quarter-finals in Europe, McAlister is fully aware of the size of the task facing the visitors under the lights.

A dejected Yoann Huget Toulouse and McAlister don't have good recent memories of Thomond Park. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We all know they’re a very strong side especially at home and they’re very tough to beat,” he continued. “It’s definitely a big ask but we’re going there to try and upset them.

“We’re coming over on Thursday so we’ll probably go to the ground on Friday so the new boys and the younger boys can get a feel for the park. It’s an atmosphere I’ve never experienced before, they don’t say anything when you’ve got a shot at goal.

“It’s the only stadium in the world where they do that. It’s quite intimidating as a player but I’m sure the older boys will try to give the younger boys a heads up. It’s a great experience and something the young boys are going to thrive on I think. It’s an awesome place, one of my favourite stadiums to play in.”

French internationals Yann David and Christopher Tolofua won’t travel with Ugo Mola’s side due to injury but Sebastien Bezy, flankers Francois Cros and Yacouba Camara, Scottish lock Richie Gray and captain Thierry Dusautoir all return.

McAlister, who has been with ‘Les rouge et noir’ for six years, feels they aren’t a million miles away from a big performance: “We haven’t been far off. Going into this game there’s going to be a lot more intensity, we know it’s another level up. Hopefully with the experience we’ve got we can match it with them. ”

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Ryan Bailey

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