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Munster's Joey Carbery and Toulouse's Antoine Dupont.
Munster's Joey Carbery and Toulouse's Antoine Dupont.

Roared on by the Red Army, Munster bid to dethrone the mighty Toulouse

More than 37,500 tickets have been sold for this Champions Cup quarter-final in Dublin.
May 7th 2022, 7:00 AM 5,968 6

MUNSTER HAVE A good degree of momentum behind them, plenty of in-form players, a big Red Army ready to roar them on, and there is now plenty of optimism about the future under the province’s next coaching team.

Can those factors combine to help them pull off a big European upset by dethroning the reigning champions, Toulouse, at the Aviva Stadium today [KO 3pm, BT Sport]?

The French side remain favourites with their array of Grand Slam winners, game-changers, and powerful forwards but the prospect of a Munster win somehow feels more likely than when the draw for these quarter-finals was confirmed.

It’s worth recalling that Munster are missing Tadhg Beirne, Gavin Coombes, RG Snyman, Dave Kilcoyne, and John Hodnett due to injuries – all of then would have had big roles to play otherwise – so the pragmatic view of this game is that it’s simply a mountain too tall to climb.

The southern province have historically enjoyed some memorable days in Europe when they haven’t been fancied, although this group of players isn’t keen to dwell on what has happened in the years gone by. This group is populated by the new breed of young homegrown Munster men like Alex Kendellen, Josh and Fineen Wycherley, Jack Daly, Thomas Ahern, Craig Casey, and Ben Healy.

“We are already writing our history,” says Munster’s Jack O’Donoghue, one of the more senior figures. “You can look at the past but it’s a completely new crop of players and so for us, it’s all about enjoying the occasion and the build-up to the game.

“Some lads, it’s their first taste of Champions Cup rugby with a bit of a crowd and playing in the Aviva with a crowd.”

This is a home quarter-final for Munster but it’s not being played at their home stadium due to Ed Sheeran’s concerts at Thomond Park over the last two nights.

jack-odonoghue-makes-a-break O'Donoghue has been in excellent form for Munster. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Instead, Munster fans are taking to the road to Dublin en masse and ticket sales have been hugely encouraging for the province, with more than 37,500 people expected at the Aviva Stadium.

“People say all the time that Munster fans are incredible but they’ve really shown it now,” says O’Donoghue. “They’ve really got behind us.

“Yeah, there was news that we couldn’t play at Thomond Park but it didn’t bother anyone. Everyone just said, ‘Where’s the game on? On we go, up to the Aviva.’

“The sea of red is following us around and it’s going to be an incredible atmosphere having 30,000-plus Munster fans there as well as the travelling Toulouse fans, it’s really going to make for a special occasion and I think the atmosphere is going to be electric.”

Whatever about the noise off the pitch, Munster need to bring plenty of the same on it. 

It would be a shock if Johann van Graan’s men aren’t relentless at the breakdown again this afternoon. Their lineout defence should be prominent with captain Peter O’Mahony and Jack O’Donoghue leading the way. They will almost certainly be as dogged.

But there needs to be cutting edge too, with the hope being that Joey Carbery’s excellent recent form continues and the talented backline outside him gets plenty of quick, clean ball.

Toulouse have plenty of tries in them, so Munster must showcase more of the attacking sparks we have seen from them in the past few months and as we saw when these two teams played in last season’s Round-of-16. Toulouse won 40-33 in Thomond Park that day but Munster caused them problems.

damian-de-allende-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-thomas-ahern Damian de Allende will be crucial for Munster again. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I think we brought a varied attacking game,” recalls O’Donoghue, “we stretched Toulouse right until the very end. The game was in the balance right up until the 80th minute and that’s something we have probably backed up again this year.

“You have seen games where we won them right at the end, and to still be in the fight at 80 minutes against them was good but we probably came out of that game and saw areas where we needed to improve a lot.”

We know Toulouse bring plenty of glamour, but they are mean and proud in the more foundational aspects of the game too. Their scrum, maul, and kicking are strengths too.

“It’s going to be an incredible set-piece battle for us,” says O’Donoghue. “We’ve seen in the Top 14 how they’ve dominated teams, even in the Champions Cup.

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“Between their 9 and 10, they’ve unbelievable kicking threats and for [Romain] Ntamack to put us back in the corner. It’s something we have spoken about and that’s something we will certainly target.”

Munster also have to do their best to shackle Antoine Dupont, officially the best player in the world, as they look to quieten a Toulouse team that has been very up-and-down this season.

You’d be shocked if today isn’t one of their ‘up’ moments but there is still a chance of Munster causing a surprise in Dublin. It promises to be something of an epic.

Munster:

  • 15. Mike Haley
  • 14. Keith Earls
  • 13. Chris Farrell
  • 12. Damian de Allende
  • 11. Simon Zebo
  • 10. Joey Carbery
  • 9. Conor Murray
  • 1. Josh Wycherley
  • 2. Niall Scannell
  • 3. Stephen Archer
  • 4. Jean Kleyn
  • 5. Fineen Wycherley
  • 6. Peter O’Mahony (captain)
  • 7. Alex Kendellen
  • 8. Jack O’Donoghue

Replacements:

  • 16. Diarmuid Barron
  • 17. Jeremy Loughman
  • 18. John Ryan
  • 19. Jason Jenkins
  • 20. Thomas Ahern
  • 21. Craig Casey
  • 22. Ben Healy
  • 23. Jack Daly

Toulouse:

  • 15. Thomas Ramos
  • 14. Dimitri Delibes
  • 13. Pierre Fouyssac
  • 12. Pita Ahki
  • 11. Matthis Lebel
  • 10. Romain Ntamack
  • 9. Antoine Dupont
  • 1. Rodrigue Neti
  • 2. Julien Marchand (captain)
  • 3. Dorian Aldegheri
  • 4. Rory Arnold
  • 5. Emmanuel Meafou
  • 6. Rynhardt Elstadt
  • 7. Thibaud Flament
  • 8. Francois Cros

Replacements:

  • 16. Peato Mauvaka
  • 17. Cyril Baille
  • 18. David Ainu’u
  • 19. Joe Tekori
  • 20. Selevasio Tolofua
  • 21. Anthony Jelonch
  • 22. Baptiste Germain
  • 23. Maxime Médard

Referee: Luke Pearce [RFU].

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Murray Kinsella

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