Rob Penney insists the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect PRO12 leagues are beginning to produce teams that can dominate the free-spending French giants after his side destroyed Toulouse with a six-try blitz to reach the Heineken Cup semi-finals.
His Munster side lined up a semi-final against either Leinster or the champions Toulon, who meet today, but on the back of this devastating 24-point triumph, the Munster coach says the big spenders no longer hold all the trumps.
“It’s interesting isn’t it, you look at what Harlequins did last night to Stade [Français]. You can argue selection and what team they put out, but there is some evidence that would suggest that the Top 14 – although there are some wonderful players and it’s a great competition – it’s no more robust than the Rabo or the Premiership,” said Penney, whose side ran in five tries in an excellent second-half display.
During the week the former Canterbury coach spoke of his desire to test himself against the Toulouse maestro Guy Noves and he must have been thrilled to see the way his side dismantled the four-time winners’ game plan.
Afterwards Noves admitted that his team failed to live with the home side after the restart. “We gave it our all, and we put ourselves into the game but the score is the score and they deserved their score,” he said.
Buoyed on by their passionate home support, Munster knocked Toulouse back on their heels with a terrific opening five minutes, which produced two turnovers at the lineout and ended with Keith Earls’ score in the corner after 19 bruising phases.
Only briefly did the home side lose control – a five-minute period before half-time which saw Luke McAlister kick two penalties to reduce Munster’s interval lead to 13-9. But when the second-half began Munster recovered and mauled Toulouse into submission.
Penney’s side ran five tries by: Dave Kilcoyne, man of the match CJ Stander, Simon Zebo and Casey Laulala all scored, but the last was the most fitting, as it was scored by the stand-in captain Paul O’Connell – Peter O’Mahony went off early with a shoulder injury – popped up on JJ Hanrahan’s shoulder in the last minute to dive over.
Ten minutes into the second-half the props Kilcoyne and Yohan Montes were sent to the sin-bin after referee Nigel Owens lost patience with their set-piece battle, and with more space to play with Hosea Gear cut Munster’s lead to 11 points with a sweet try.
But in the end Munster’s superior fitness told as they easily pulled clear to reach the semi-final for the second year in a row.
Munster: F Jones; K Earls (G Van Der Heerver, 67), C Laulala, J Downey (JJ Hanrahan, 66), S Zebo; I Keatley, C Murray (D Williams, 75); D Kilcoyne, D Varley (D Casey, 55), BJ Botha (J Ryan, 75), D Foley (D O’Callaghan, 60), P O’Connell, P O’Mahony (capt; CJ Stander, 18), T O’Donnell (J Ryan, 50-60), J Coughlan.
Toulouse: M Médard; Y Huget, F Fritz (JM Doussain, 60), G Fickou, H Gear; L McAlister (L Beauxis, 51), J Vermaak; G Steenkamp (S Ferreira, 46; C Baille, 68-70), C Tolofua (J Bregvadze, 48), Y Montes, Y Maestri (R Millo-Chusky, 46), P Albacete (captain), Y Camara, J Tekori (C Baille 50-60), L Picamoles (G Galan, 58).
Referee: N Owens (WRU).