Rob Penney told journalists during the week that Toulon have booked their accommodation for the Heineken Cup already. The French side might be getting a tiny bit ahead of themselves. Counting your chickens is rarely wise in rugby. Just ask the England grand slam chasing squad of 2011. That didn’t work out too well now, did it?
It was Ireland who derailed England’s hopes that year, and it is Munster who can force a Toulon employee to ring a Cardiff hotel Monday morning looking for the club’s deposit back. There’s the added bonus of a Heineken Cup final at stake for Rob Penney’s side too.
Munster were devastating against Toulouse in the quarter finals, racking up 47 points against the four times Heineken Cup champions. For all their pedigree however, Toulouse are not the force they once were, and currently lie 6th in the Top 14. Toulon, on the other hand, are top of the table with 3 games left of the regular season.
Bernard La Porte’s side disposed of Leinster relatively easily in the quarter final, but there is little that Munster can derive from that game. Coach Penney has said that analysis of Toulon games unearthed very little weakness to exploit.
The goal for Munster has to be for the entire team to front up on Sunday afternoon at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille. With Peter O’Mahony out for the season, Damien Varley will captain the side. Talisman Paul O’Connell compared Toulon to the All Blacks this week, saying Munster will have to play at a level beyond any they have already this season, including the rout of Toulouse.
Forwards Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha will miss tomorrow’s game but there is some positive news for Toulon on the injury front. Bryan Habana, the pacy South African winger, has been passed fit to feature after a long spell on the sidelines. Jonny Wilkinson -forced from the fray early in the quarter final- is also in line for a return.
With such an array of talent at La Porte’s disposal, a game-defining moment could come from anywhere. However, it is difficult to ignore the threat of Steffon Armitage. The back-row combines mobility and power to frightening effect, and his work at the breakdown and with the ball in hand contributed hugely to Leinster’s downfall in the quarter final. Munster must aim to nullify his influence as much as possible if they are to advance to May’s final.
Crucially important to Munster in this regard will be CJ Stander. The South African replaced injured captain O’Mahony in the victory over Toulouse and put in a man-of-the-match performance. Tomorrow’s game will be the former Blue Bulls player’s first Heineken Cup start. If Toulon are going to go the way of Toulouse, both he and Munster will have to put in a superhuman effort.
Toulon are favourites, and deservedly so. And yet, Munster have made a mockery of such tags before. For the travelling supporters and those watching at home there will be one creed tomorrow
“To the brave and the faithful, nothing is impossible.”