Date: Sunday 16th January
Venue: Stade Felix Mayol
The Pool three leaders could guarantee their progression to the quarter-finals with a win against Munster, and after having won at home against the Ospreys and London Irish in this year’s tournament they should go into this one full of confidence. The Stade Mayol has become a fortress for Toulon, and the atmosphere created before kick-off is as brilliant a spectacle as it is intimidating for the opposition. They have the stars, the confidence and the facilities to become a real Heineken Cup force, but the only thing they lack is the experience. If they can maintain a 100% record going into the knockout stages then they have as good as a chance as anyone of winning this year’s tournament.
In danger of not progressing to the quarter finals for the first time since 1998, it could prove to be unlucky 13 for Munster this weekend. The thrashing of Toulon at Thomond Park doesn’t count for much now given how the pool has progressed. One big advantage they do have however is the confidence they gained from last year’s win in Perpignan. It wasn’t just a win, but a thrashing, winning 37-14. With captain Paul O’Connell back after suspension, the pack should be stronger, and they will have a hard job up against a powerful Toulon eight. If they do win, it will be one of their greatest away victories in this tournament.
What to expect:
Based on the referee’s interpretation of the breakdown, this area will prove crucial in determining who emerges triumphant. Munster and Toulon both have outstanding packs, but the Irish lineout should gain the upper-hand with the return of O’Connell. With Ronan O’Gara and Jonny Wilkinson both starting, both teams have great kicking options who they know will rarely miss the target. Fast front foot ball will be crucial, but whilst there are plenty of poachers out wide such as Doug Howlett and Paul Sackey, you get the impression that both teams will go for power rather than risky balls out wide.
All eyes on:
Joe Van Niekerk for the home side has put in some brilliant workloads so far this year. His all-action approach has been very entertaining, and he is not unlike Pierre Spies and Sonny Bill Williams in the way he combines his powerful physique with soft hands. He is a classic headache for defence coaches, and it will take a lot of effort and defenders to stop him.
David Wallace for the visitors will need to be at his very best at the breakdown if Munster are to get enough quality ball. Win the breakdown and Munster may take the game. Get it wrong however, and Wilkinson will punish the Red Machine all afternoon. Wallace therefore is hugely important to their game plan. One the best sevens over the last decade in World Rugby, his experience in these big games is absolutely vital.
Head to Head:
Who else but Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O’Gara? Arguably surpassed by Dan Carter in recent years, both of these players have still both scored over 3000 points in all competitions throughout their careers. Both are seemingly nerveless under the greatest amounts of pressure, and have knocked over many important drop goals in their time as well. However, they are not getting any younger, aged 31 and 33 respectively. The result may simply come down to which of these two performs better on the day.
Last season’s result: –
Weather: Glorious Mediterranean sunshine and a warm 12 degrees. Exotic.
Given Munster’s experience in the competition and their pedigree, your head says that they should pull off another great victory in this competition. But there is something special going on at Toulon, and having seen them perform at home this season, they seemed unbeatable. If Toulon truly want to become a European force, then these are the games where they must leave their mark. Toulon by 5.
by Ben Coles