Rugby Union

Heineken Cup semi-final preview: Toulon v Munster

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Toulon king-pin Jonny Wilkinson will be fit to lead the defending champions (©GettyImages)
Toulon king-pin Jonny Wilkinson will be fit to lead the defending champions (©GettyImages).

Defending champions Toulon take on former winners Munster on Sunday at the Stade Velodrome in what rugby purists will see as the pick of the Heineken Cup semi-final clashes this weekend.

By the time referee Wayne Barnes gets proceedings underway, one half of the final to be played at the Millennium Stadium on May 24th would have already been decided, however this will have no baring on either side's efforts as they focus purely on securing a place in Europe's elite club rugby final.

Toulon have powered through the tournament unbeaten and currently sit at the summit of the Top 14 log.

When you take a look at their squad and see the names like Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau, Brian Habana, Juan Smit, Carl Hayman and Juan Fernadez Lobbe, but to name a few, it underlines the task ahead for Paul O'Connell's team.

The experienced O'Connell will not let Toulon's list of superstars affect their preparations, in fact quite the opposite for the Ireland and Lions legend. These are the moments that professional sports stars live for, to test yourself against the very best, which is what his team will be facing on Sunday.

Adding to this the experience of having played in 11 Heineken Cup semi-finals and their annihilation in the quarter-finals of four times champions Toulouse in a six-try rout, will provide them with the confidence and belief that this could very well be their year.

What was most impressive about their quarter-final win was their second half performance, that reaped five tries in a near faultless performance that simply blew away the French giants.

South African born CJ Stander was the outstanding performer for Munster that day and the powerful number eight will be looking to seize any opportunity to drive his team over the game line with his powerful ball carrying.

The tight five will look to dominate the early exchanges in the scrum and if they can get the defending champions on the back foot expect Keith Earls and Simon Zebo to be full of running.

Toulon demonstrated just what lies ahead when they demolished Leinster 29-14 in the last round. Despite losing king-pin Wilkinson through injury they continued as though he rarely has an impact thanks to the depth of quality in their squad.

Steffon Armitage was simply outstanding in all aspects, especially at the breakdown, something Munster will have to nullify if they harbour any hopes of upsetting the defending champions.

Craig Burden has been passed fit, the former Sharks hooker has been in spectacular form since moving to the South of France. Add Springbok World Cup winners, Danie Rossouw, a rejuvenated Juan Smit and Brian Habana to the mix the signs look ominous for Munster.

Habana has had a frustrating start to live in France following a hamstring injury, however the South African try scoring record holder has returned and will be determined to make an impact alongside Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell and Mathieu Bastareaud, part of an attacking force that reads among the most potent in club rugby.

Make no mistake, Toulon's foreign legion is not in the South of France for the lifestyle and a swansong payday, they are there to secure a European and domestic double this season which will without question proclaim them the leading club in world rugby.

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Topics:
Toulon
France Rugby
Ireland Rugby
Heineken Cup
Rugby Union
South Africa Rugby
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