Oyonnax coach Prendergast explains how they beat Toulon two weeks ago

The former Munster scrum-half and his side had a huge victory over Munster’s Champions Cup opponents.

WHILE MUNSTER WILL have carried out a careful analysis of Toulon’s seven-try hammering of Clermont on a 49-0 scoreline in the Top 14 last Sunday, there was also a highly relevant game two weekends ago.

Toulon travelled to the Top 14′s bottom side, Oyonnax, and went home with their tails between their legs after a 29-26 defeat.

Former Munster scrum-half Mike Prendergast is an important part of Oyonnax’s coaching team these days, leading their attack after joining last summer, and it would be little surprise if his old province have been in touch with him this week.

Grenoble's Mike Prendergast

Oyonnax were firm underdogs against a Toulon team that included Malakai Fekitoa, Duane Vermeulen, Chris Ashton, Ma’a Nonu, Josua Tuisova, Semi Radradra, Facundo Isa and Sebastien Tillous-Borde.

But Oyonnax’s clever and simple game plan helped them to negate the Toulon power for large parts of the clash and eke out a win with a last-minute try and conversion.

“They came fully loaded and we knew, defensively, that collisions were going to be a huge thing, but also strategically we knew that they are just so good with the ball,” says Prendergast.

“The way we play and how we’re set up, it allows us to go through a lot of multi-phase play.

“So we knew if we held onto the ball – and it’s one thing saying it and another putting it into practice – we would be in a good place. We knew our breakdown had to be right, because they’re quite strong there, especially when they win a collision in defence.

“We focused a huge amount on not spending too much time in our half, kicking contestably because that’s an area we felt that maybe we could go after them a small bit.

“Then, once we were in their half, hold onto the ball for long phases as much as possible and we managed to do that.

“Sometimes you won’t score five or seven points but you can put teams under pressure to potentially win penalties and that happened a bit during the game.

“We knew that against a team like Toulon, scoring opportunities wouldn’t present themselves too much, so we had to be very, very precise in what we were doing – especially in their 22.

“Fortunately, we got two tries but we always kept the scoreboard ticking over by being patient with the ball and winning a few penalties from their ill-discipline and maybe a bit of their frustration as well.”

Scott Williams and Samson Lee with Romain Taofifenua Toulon have many powerful players like Romain Taofifenua. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Oyonnax’s focus on retaining possession is highly evident in the official Top 14 statistics, which show that Prendergast’s men held the ball for a total time of 22:43, while Toulon had only 15:10 of possession.

The aforementioned intention of playing the game in Toulon’s half, denying them a chance to build momentum in Oyonnax’s defensive zone, saw Prendergast’s side enjoy a 59% share of the territory too.

“When you play against a team like that, just with their power, I don’t think you can afford to play without the ball,” says Prendergast, who points out that Oyonnax just weren’t fit enough when they played Toulon back in December, losing 49-25 after making an excellent start to lead after 50 minutes of the game.

“They will wear you down. That was our mindset but the good thing for us is that that’s how we set up and we always look to keep hold of the ball. You have to have the right breakdown to do that. I think it frustrated Toulon.”

The reaction to the defeat was dramatic within the Toulon squad, with French media reporting that club president Mourad Boudjellal put some of the coaching staff on short-term gardening leave and berated the players.

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Given those reports, Prendergast was not surprised to see a big reaction in Clermont last weekend.

“They came out of that loss and there was a bit of upheaval with the president, and there was always going to be a reaction against Clermont because they were playing at home and they reacted in the best manner by putting 49 points on them.

“Clermont had guys like Wesley Fofana, Damian Penaud, Morgan Parra back, and although they were still short a few in the pack, it was a huge performance by Toulon.

Max Lahiff with Duane Vermeulen Duane Vermeulen is set to return to the Toulon team. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I wasn’t overly-surprised with it because of the noise coming out of their camp after the defeat to us. The French, when it comes to emotion and leaving everything out there, they can do that.”

While Munster have injury concerns of their own this week, Prendergast points out that the fitness or otherwise of Toulon and France captain Guilhem Guirado could be an important factor in Saturday’s contest.

“Guirado has been 50-50 for the game but his leadership will be huge, especially because it’s an away game against Munster,” says Prendergast.

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Murray Kinsella

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