THIS Sunday afternoon Champions Cup slot might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but in this instance, it could be to Munster’s advantage, as they will know exactly the lie of the land come kick-off at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
In terms of qualification for the last 16 of the competition, Graham Rowntree’s side will know whether Clermont got the unlikely win they need away to the Stormers, and Sale will also have to have won away at Ulster.
A win for Ulster might nab the final qualification spot for them, assuming Clermont lose, so Ulster should be motivated enough for that one. Both those games are on Saturday.
Before Munster face Toulouse on Sunday the result of the Montpellier v London Irish game earlier that day will also be known. It is possible that Munster may need a win to qualify at this point, but the sequence of results required for this to transpire is incredibly unlikely.
A betting man would be backing Munster to end up in seventh spot when all the dust has finally settled, which would probably mean an away trip to the likes of the Sharks or Saracens in the last 16.
M Haley; C Nash, A Frisch, J Crowley, S Daly; J Carbery, C Casey; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan; J Kleyn, T Beirne; P O’Mahony (c), J Hodnett, G Coombes.
D Barron, J Wycherley, R Salanoa, J O’Sullivan, A Kendellen, C Murray, B Healy, M Fekitoa.
M Jaminet; J C Mallia, P L Barrasi, P Akhi, D Delibes; R Ntamack, A Dupont – captain; C Baille, J Marchand, D Aldegheri; R Arnold, E Meafou; A Jelonch, J Willis, A Roumat.
G Cramont, R Neti, D Ainu’u, T Flament, J Brennan, F Cros, A Capuozzo, A Retiere.
Of course, a win for Munster would change this outlook, although a home last-16 tie also looks an incredibly unlikely prospect even with a victory. Ultimately Munster are more than likely going to have to be satisfied with an away knockout fixture, and there seems to be little they can do to influence that at this stage.
Yes, a win ensures they qualify and removes the chance of freakish results knocking them out, but in reality, you could well argue that Munster’s URC away trip to Benetton next Saturday is actually more important to their season than this game.
That statement flies in the face of the notion that Europe is the be-all and end-all for Munster rugby and the league is a very distant second priority, but in terms of qualification for next year’s Heineken Champions Cup, as well as progression to the URC play-offs this year, the trip to Italy is a crucial fixture.
Benetton are actually a point ahead of Munster right now in that table, so the Italian side are far from the fodder they may have been in previous years.
Munster will require a strong side to beat them, and the feeling is that if they put all their eggs into the Toulouse basket this week, for a game that probably will not amount to much, then they may end up doing long-term damage to their prospects for both this season and next if they end up sending a weakened team to Italy and lose.
The problem, of course, with all the above is that Munster will have picked their team long before any matches are played this weekend, and they are not really in a position to assume that the results will go their way.
Therefore, we can expect a side that is stronger than it probably needs to be this weekend.