By John Kennedy at Thomond Park
Munster are back in the big time in the Champions Cup and who would bet against them going all the way to a fifth final with the backing of a massive Irish crowd for the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium?
The reigning champions, Saracens, will obviously have something to say about that, but if the most recent English performances at the home of Irish rugby are anything to go by, then Brad Barritt’s boys will do well not to go the same way as Grand Slam-chasing England and Wasps.
The shape and discipline that South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has been able to instill into Munster this season has made them a difficult side to beat. Tyler Bleyendaal gives them direction from fly-half, captain Peter O’Mahony provides the passion and CJ Stander the tries.
It is a potent mix – and they had to win without the services of Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray, who is expected back next week.
Their remarkable fans will head to Dublin in their tens of thousands, with their team looking to pay the ultimate tribute to their late coach, Anthony Foley, by bringing home the ultimate prize.
Erasmus said: “We’ve been growing as a squad for only eight or nine months, but we’ve managed to get to the semi-finals and we would be stupid not to say we don’t want to win it.
“It wasn’t perfect at times, but it got the job done. That’s a win against a world-class team, so we are very happy.”
That reference to a Toulouse side in crisis is stretching it a bit and Erasmus will be the first to admit that Saracens will offer a far stiffer challenge in all areas than the French side. It was a sad way for their legendary leader, Thierry Dusautoir, to bow out of European competition before hanging up his boots at the end of the season
Toulouse coach Ugo Mola said: “There is a problem at the club, but it was very special to be here today. We were looking to win, and we had to try things, so it made for a big score at the end of the game.”.
Losing No 8 François Cros to a yellow card in the second minute after a senseless shoulder charge gave them the worst possible start. John Ryan burrowed over for a try and Bleyendaal added a penalty and conversion before Cros returned.
Toulouse stayed in the hunt thanks to a try after a suspiciously forward-looking pass to Paul Perez, but Munster piled on the pressure and the points in the second half to run out convincing winners. Saracens have been warned.