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Munster's army will be in the stands - Toulouse coach Guy Novès

The experienced boss of the Top 14 side feels his men are in a good place ahead of the Heineken Cup quarter-final.

Novès has been in charge of Toulouse since 1993.
Novès has been in charge of Toulouse since 1993.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THIS SEASON HAS been one of constant ups and downs for Toulouse, but the sense is that they are heading towards their true peak at just the right time.

Typical of a Guy Novès team.

‘Le Gitan’ [the gypsy] is in his 21st consecutive year in charge of les rouge et noir and has led them to four Heineken Cup successes and no less than 10 French championships in that time. The 60-year-old is as wily as rugby coaches come and has retained his deep passion for the game.

Stand out performances this season have come away to Saracens in Europe, and at home to Stade Français, Racing Métro and Castres in the Top 14. On the flip side, Toulouse’s away form domestically has been abysmal, with just one win in 12 games on the road.

Performance levels have been wildly inconsistent, although the long-term biceps injury to Luke McAlister through the winter months was a great hindrance. The Kiwi is likely to be back from a short-term back issue to face Munster this weekend, with his teammates having begun to find their stride in recent weeks.

A bonus point 37-9 win against Perpignan at the beginning of March was followed up by a stirring comeback against Stade, where they recovered from 27-5 down after 33 minutes to draw 27-27.

Last weekend saw them lose to Toulon on a scoreline of 32-28, but there were many encouraging signs in their muscular performance. Novès is happy with the state of his men.

I feel that everyone in the the club is focused,” he told Rugbyrama. “It’s very refreshing. The club is the only focus for everyone and it’s a huge strength to feel that the players have the desire to come back into the group and play for the jersey.”

Confidence is spreading through the club, but Novès acknowledges that travelling to take on Munster is a unique and demanding challenge.

France Rugby Luke McAlister's fitness will be important for Toulouse. Source: AP/Press Association Images

“It’s a capital challenge, we know that it will be difficult to do but we’ll try to succeed. They’re opponents of a very high standard. They have always posed us many problems, Munster are historic.

“Winning there [in Limerick] would be a huge, huge exploit. If we lose and play well, it will allow us to say that the Heineken Cup wasn’t our priority, unlike the championship [laughs].”

Novès saw his Toulouse side beaten by Munster in the 2008 final of the Heineken Cup in Cardiff, and he has faced the province in other guises too. The former French international wing says the changes in Munster’s style of play under Rob Penney in recent times have been obvious.

They have certainly changed their mode of functioning. This rugby seems more complete, with more alternation, but which still relies on their ability to keep the ball, with a notably magnificent set-piece.”

Home advantage is important in the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup, and Novès admits that Munster are particularly blessed in that regard. The ‘Red Army’ enjoys a fine reputation for their passion in France, with the Toulouse coach pointing out their possible significance in the outcome.

“Having played in just about every ground in Europe, we know that that on the pitch there will only be 15 Munster players against 15 Toulousains. Their army will be in the stands. Will there be 3000 Toulouse fans?

“We’re sorry that our supporters have to go there, but if they are still loyal to us – given the efforts that we have made for 20 years – the players deserve it.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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