In Sunday’s fixture Toulon assume home status at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome as the Irish men in red come to town.
Munster exceeded all expectations in the quarter-finals by absolutely walloping the supposedly mighty Toulouse. It was a colossal David v Goliath occasion as the Limerick men ran in six tries to hammer the French giants, who were woefully quiet all game apart from a flash of brilliance from Hosea Gear. In contrast Munstermen put in mammoth performances all over the park led by Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony’s replacement, CJ Stander.
Don’t expect Toulon to be toppled in similar fashion. Wilko is fit again to provide the points in the consistent way that only Wilko can and as proved in the last round, he has a host of kicking deputies should the hammy give way again. Outside him one of those deputies, Matt Giteau, remains one of the world’s classiest centres and the combination of his subtlety and ability to identify space, combined with Mathieu Bastareaud’s, ahem, ‘more direct approach’ can be devastating to opponents. With Bryan Habana also recovered from a hamstring injury and Drew Mitchell on the other wing, the backline oozes class.
Not that Munster’s doesn’t: they have the try-scoring flair of Simon Zebo, a powerful centre combination of James Downey and Casey Laulala, back in the side having recovered from a broken bone in his right hand, and Conor Murray to keep them ticking along.
In the pack, a Toulon back row of Juan Smith, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Steffon Armitage is undeniably world class and with O’Mahoney still out, Stander and his back row cohorts Sean Dougall and James Coughlan face another gargantuan task of keeping Munster’s ball fluid.
Big names run throughout the rest of the Toulon pack like Carl Hayman, Castrogiovanni, Sheridan, Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams, in fact the latter two names – the two first pick Toulon locks – weren’t even missed in the last round as Danie Roussouw, who has played lock as well as back row for the Springboks, repeatedly battered his way through the Leinster defence. Botha and Williams are still injured so Roussouw will again need to be at his bruising best against O’Connell.
Munster thrive on these big game situations – as demonstrated against Toulouse – but the power of the International All-Stars XV may be too much for Rob Penney’s troops. Prediction: Toulon by 9.