‘To the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible’

IT HAS BEEN MORE than two years since we have had proper crowds at the Champions Cup quarter-finals, which makes this weekend’s European ties all the more exciting.

The buzz is building particularly strongly around Munster’s clash with Toulouse at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin [KO 3pm, BT Sport]for which tickets have been snapped up quarter – offering it will be the biggest-final attendance since Leinster hosted Ulster in front of a sell-out crowd at the venue back in 2019.

The level of interest and anticipation is a big boost for Munster, who have made tickets and travel very accessible and affordable for their supporters around the province.

Toulouse, the defending champions in this competition, remain the favourites for Saturday afternoon’s clash, but Munster boss Johann van Graan is hopeful that the big swell of support can be an important factor.

“It’s one of those things that you can’t explain if you’re not there,” said van Graan when asked how big an impact the supporters can have.

“That feeling of everywhere you go, everyone is just talking about what a great journey it will be on Saturday traveling to Dublin by bus or train, going on the day before or the morning, people traveling from all over Europe, Munster people coming to watch this game.

“It’s what this club are known for, that saying we have, “To the brave and faithful, nothing is impossible.’

“To a lot of people from the outside, this might seem like it is impossible but it is a game of rugby. It’s Munster in Europe versus Toulouse, a team that we respect a lot. How many occasions have the 16th man pulled us through?

Van Graan pictured with Munster out-half Joey Carbery.

Source: Ben Brady/INPHOR

“And that doesn’t win it for the team on the field. We have to play well, we have to perform well. But subconsciously, knowing that we have that support and noise, that sea of ​​red for 80 minutes, that’s why you want to play at home in knock-out rugby and that’s what we have on Saturday.”

Van Graan is entirely correct to point out that Munster’s own performance will be the decisive factor in this contest.

As we saw once again in their Round-of-16 win against Ulster, this Toulouse team are capable of scoring tries in the blink of an eye through their game-breaking running and offloading skills.

Van Graan indicated that he feels Munster can go toe-to-toe with the French champions in that sense.

“You have to control and structure the chaos,” he said. “There were one or two moments in the Ulster game which we looked at when Toulouse twice threw the ball behind their tryline but still managed to get out.

“But if you flip that, if you can turn that into seven points, it works in your favour.

“If you look at our game [against Toulouse] last season, we also threw quite a few punches from our own 22 and scored two fantastic tries in the first half. So both teams will play positive rugby, the weather seems good. It’s about balance and managing your energy. You might concede, you might go ahead, this game will go the full 80.”

Toulouse can play in more ways than one. Their forward pack is heavy, powerful, and strong at the set-piece.

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Tadhg Beirne remains sidelined.

Source: Bryan Keane/INPHOR

Munster are missing first-choice forwards in Tadhg Beirne, Gavin Coombes, Dave Kilcoyne, and RG Snyman. While others have undoubtedly stepped up in their absences, they are clearly major losses for a game of this magnitude.

“You can’t look past the set-piece and their power game,” said van Graan. “Scrum penalties, maul penalties. The kicking game from nine and ten from both starting sides and their benches, the impact of players coming on and then one player making one play that’s the difference between winning and losing.”

Munster have welcomed wing Andrew Conway back to training this week for the first time since the Six Nations and while van Graan is happy to have his squad boosted out wide, he has plenty of options in the back three.

“He’s had a phenomenal year,” said van Graan of Conway, “that performance he gave against the All Blacks in the Aviva, some of the performances in the Six Nations.

“On the flip side of that, Simon Zebo has been excellent for Munster on the left and Keith Earls in the last few weeks has been fantastic on the right.

“Then if you look at Shane Daly’s performance against Exeter, and the try that he scored, and Calvin Nash’s performance on the weekend against Cardiff.

“And I think Mike Haley is playing the best rugby of his career. So we are blessed with some very good back three players. That gives us options and that’s a great headache to have.”

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