Heineken Cup 2014: Paul O’Connell plays down Munster’s chances
Heineken Cup 2014: Paul O'Connell plays down Munster's chances of beating reigning champions Toulon
Paul O’Connell has played down Munster’s chances of reaching the Heineken Cup final ahead of Sunday’s clash with reigning champion Toulon.
The Irish province have won the tournament twice in 2006 and 2008—both in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, which will also host this year’s showpiece next month—and face a French side in form in the Top14 and Europe.
Mentally they’re probably a team that will challenge you more than any other team
On the other hand, Munster have stuttered in the RaboDirect Pro12, suffering defeats to the Scarlets, Leinster and Glasgow Warriors in their last five league matches.
“I think for this team—at the moment anyway—being away from home and having the odds against us probably suits us,” said O’Connell, who will take part in his eighth European semi-final.
“I just don’t think we’re at that stage yet, we’ve a lot of learning to do. As I said before the Toulouse game, we haven’t played fantastically well all season.”
After a 16-10 defeat by Clermont Auvergne in their semi-final at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier last season, the Ireland captain expects a tough test at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on Sunday as they face a team with considerable weapons all over the pitch.
“Mentally they’re probably a team that will challenge you more than any other team, similar I suppose to Clermont in many ways,” O’Connell added.
“They can push you around the place with sheer power but they’ve incredible talent, 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.”
Munster thumped Toulouse 47-23 at Thomond Park while Toulon powered their way to the semi-finals with a 29-14 win over Leinster at the Stade Mayol, despite captain Jonny Wilkinson going off injured in the first half.
And O’Connell admits Leinster weren’t at their best.
“I don’t think Leinster played as well as they have done at this stage of the tournament in the past,” he said.
“Leinster normally reserve their very best rugby for this stage of the tournament and they’ll be very disappointed with their quarter-final performance.
“I know we have incredible talent as well and we don’t always play to it unfortunately.
“There were certainly hints of it in the Toulouse game and we’re going to need to be there and a whole lot better again to be able to even compete with these guys.”
O’Connell—who scored the sixth try for Munster to reach an 11th semi-final in 15 seasons—concedes that they will have to take their chances when they come if they want to reach the final.
“We hung on well against Clermont and the very small chances we got we took them and we made a game of it,” he added. “That’s what we’re going to have to do this weekend.
“We’re going to have to hang in there, we’re going to need to manage that and then when we get opportunities ourselves we’re going to need to be really accurate, retain the ball and take our chances, however few they are.”
Toulon start the match as the bookmakers’ favourites and statistics favour the ‘home’ side with just 36 per cent of away teams progressing to the final in the 18 years of the tournament, but Munster have progressed as the away side four times, including their winning campaigns in 2006 and 2008.