Toulon, the reining champions take on Munster – who have tasted European Cup glory themselves twice – in the first semifinal match at the Stade Vélodrome.
The french side are so far unbeaten in the competition and received good news earlier in the week when star flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson, as well as South African-born hooker Craig Burden, were declared fit. Toulon will be taking form as well as historical impotence into the clash, at the same stage last year the french side dispatched fellow semifinalists Saracens, which saw them march on to take the Cup. Munster are not strangers to the business end of the European cup either, having played in 11 semifinals in their hostory – a record they took from Toulon.
In a knock-out game such as this it is very hard to call a out-and-out favorite, however Toulon coach Bernard Leporte believes his team’s home ground advantage will be the thing that edges it for them. “The match is 51-49 percent in our favour, we have a slight advantage in that we are playing at home, at the Velodrome, even if one recalls that last year we went away to Saracens in the semi-finals and won,” Laporte said.
Munster’s Paul O’Connell realises the challenge that they are up against in facing the giants of French rugby, comparing them to the All Blacks. The caliber of players on the Toulon side is something that could make Munster’s day very difficult. They will have to get the better of the likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana, Drew Mitchell, Carl Hayman, Juan Smith and Juan Fernandez Lobbe if they are to keep their European dream alive.
“It’s kind of like the feeling you get the week before you play New Zealand,” O’Connell said. “If you’re not [at your best], if guys aren’t prepared to go beyond where they’ve been all season, you know you could almost end up getting embarrassed. “Mentally they’re probably a team that will challenge you more than any other.
“They can push you around the place with sheer power but they’ve incredible talent then, incredible steppers, incredible footballers and they’ve obviously got massive gas all over the pitch as well.
“Not just in the backline but in the pack as well. You know you’re going to be challenged every single way possible.”
Toulon: : 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (captain), 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 David Smith, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Konstantine Mikautadze.
Munster: 15 Felix Jones, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 James Downey, 11 Simon Zebo, 10 Ian Keatley, 9 Conor Murray, 8 James Coughlan, 7 Sean Dougall, 6 CJ Stander, 5 Paul O’Connell, 4 Dave Foley, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Damien Varley (captain), 1 Dave Kilcoyne.
Replacements: 16 Duncan Casey, 17 James Cronin, 18 John Ryan, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Tommy O’Donnell, 21 Duncan Williams, 22 JJ Hanrahan, 23 Denis Hurley.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle, Luke Pearce
TMO: Graham Hughes