Wilko and co should have Tou much
Munster were massive underdogs in similar circumstances during last year’s Heineken Cup when they fell agonizingly short after a huge performance against Clermont at the same stage in the south of France. And after blowing away Toulouse earlier this month during their quarter-final clash at Thomond Park, Rob Penney’s side will arrive in Marseille confident of a repeat performance. However, Toulon in France are an entirely different proposition to a Toulouse side that do not travel well.
The European champions showed their huge strength in depth during their quarter-final showdown against Leinster when even an injury to Jonny Wilkinson could not disrupt their play, with Matt Giteau sliding across from centre to number 10 with little discernible difference.
Indeed so dominant were Toulon, they never really had to get out of third gear against their much-vaunted Irish opponents. Groundhog Steffon Armitage was untouchable at the breakdown, while Mathieu Bastareaud put in a bruising performance only bettered by the scavenging back row. Munster can expect a similarly physical encounter.
That is traditionally how Munster have always liked to play: setting down early markers in the physical stakes as they look to grind opponents into submission. But Toulon are not a side that will merely roll over.
To be fair to Munster, Penney has made the Reds a more multi-faceted side than those storied sides of yore, nonetheless duals between the likes of veteran second rows Paul O’Connell and either of Ali Williams or Bakkies Botha (injury permitting) should make fascinating viewing.
The suspicion remains that Toulon’s greater strength in depth will see them home the longer the game goes on. Munster do not possess the same pool of players to choose from as evidenced by scrum-half Conor Murray’s back-up roll at out-half in their PRO12 win over Connacht last week.
Toulon confirmed their place at the top of the European tree by claiming the trophy in 2013 and their convincing quarter-final win against Leinster only served to cement this position. It will take a mighty effort to dislodge them.
Munster, as only they can, will make it as difficult for as long as they possibly can. But take Toulon at odds of 4/5 on the Handicap of -7.5 with a fit again Wilkinson to triumph and set up a repeat of last season’s All-French decider.
The match kicks off at 3.30pm in the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.