Munster v Toulouse: David Corkery on European redemption for the Reds

A huge Munster crowd will travel to the Aviva on Saturday with a place in the Heineken European Cup semi-final up for grabs
Munster v Toulouse: David Corkery on European redemption for the Reds

Munster supporters James O'Riordan, Conor Lenihan, Kevin O'Connor and Rory Cunningham, before the Heineken Champions Cup match against Wasps. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

IF I were asked to choose one team and pick one competition that would afford Munster Rugby the perfect opportunity to reignite the quenched souls of their 16th man, tomorrow’s Heineken European Cup quarter-final against the holders Toulouse, would be my ideal choice.

Many would argue that Munster will only be able to re-establish their once formidable standing if they were to play and beat Leinster, however, if you look at the pedigree of Toulouse, the history of this tournament, and the games that made Munster such an iconic team on the European stage, beating the five-time champions will afford this Munster squad a very real opportunity to win back a large portion of the respect they have lost.

Munster's Simon Zebo takes a selfie with fans after the Cardiff game. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady
Munster's Simon Zebo takes a selfie with fans after the Cardiff game. Picture: INPHO/Ben Brady

Respect isn’t normally a word I brandish about nonchalantly because for me it defines who you are and what you stand for.

Respect is something that no money can buy and is something that no one can give to you. 

In a sporting context, you either earn it yourself or you hang off the coattails of those who have gone before and make hay on the back of their achievements.

The word on the street is implying that Munster have turned a corner but, I would beg to differ. For me, it comes down to a phrase labelled, acceptable standards, and what once seemed a minimum requirement is now viewed as a major achievement.

Reaching the knockout stages in Europe was once viewed as the minimum in any Munster pre-season goal; now it’s a major achievement.

If you were to read some of the headlines over the last couple of weeks you would be forgiven for thinking that all Munster need to do for the next few games is turn up and the spoils of the season will be theirs for the taking.

Calvin Nash of Munster is tackled by Theo Cabango of Cardiff Blues. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Calvin Nash of Munster is tackled by Theo Cabango of Cardiff Blues. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Up to this point, Munster have had some great performances but, scattered throughout these worthy displays have been games where Munster looked like a side who had just come together on the day of the game and threw together a game plan.

I think it is fair to surmise that the graph of worthy performances has been heading in the right direction over the last few months albeit, the increments of improvement will need to take a big jump for tomorrow’s game because of what Peter O’Mahony and his troops will be facing is a side that will be steered by a set of half-backs that must now be viewed as the best in the world.

THRILLING

Over the last few seasons Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have guided not only their Toulouse club-mates to glory, but they have also inspired their international colleagues to play a brand of rugby that is deserving of wearing the illustrious blue jersey of France.

Dupont, who will run the show with the number nine jersey welded to his body, has the ability to find holes in defences where gas would have trouble escaping and unless he is afforded the full-time attention of at least two of Munster’s fringe defenders, he will run riot.

Ntamack on the other hand is a slightly different kind of player and while he possesses the same silky running skills as his legendary father Émile Ntamack, he can become flustered if his pack are not feeding him with a favourable supply of go-forward ball.

French rugby has risen from the ashes over the last few years and they will probably arrive at next year’s World Cup with the favourites tag dangling from their necks. 

However, the one aspect of their game that will always weigh heavily upon their shoulders is their incompetency to travel away from home and remain focused in times of pressure.

If Munster are to have any hope of leaving Dublin to the sound of champagne corks popping it is imperative they win the majority of the gain-line battles, and if that means the forwards putting their heads where you wouldn’t put a brick, then that is exactly what they must do.

Everything, and I mean everything, that Toulouse attempt must be challenged and the space that they have to move must be restricted to the point where they are finding it hard to breathe.

Do I believe Munster can win this game?

You bet your life I do but, I also believe that unless players like Joey Carbery looks to take more risks and prove he is a worthy adversary to Johnny Sexton, the only tune that the Munster bus will be playing on their journey back home is Talking Heads’ Road To Nowhere.

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