Jauzion and Co out to master Munster spirit

We did not require the introduction of a profoundly pointless and potentially perilous ranking system for next season's Heineken Cup draw to tell us that Toulouse and Munster are the outstanding exponents of top-class European rugby. The strongest English contenders, Leicester and Wasps, have each won the title twice, but neither have come close to playing the mind-stretching rugby associated with the Frenchmen or matching the ferocious sense of purpose that has taken the Irish hordes to a fourth final in eight years.

When the two meet at the Millennium Stadium this evening, they will remind the organisers of the virtues of the system so wilfully abandoned – a system that underpinned the Heineken Cup's claim to being the most captivating competition in the sport by providing pool matches of considerable grandeur while building towards a final between the finest teams in the tournament. Next year's round-robin stage will not be, cannot be, as magical as this season's, because seedings will keep the heavy hitters apart. All the more reason, then, to bend the knee and bow the head before today's combatants, both of whom were confronted with the fires of hell from the outset and somehow emerged on the other side.

Much of the knowledgeable money will be riding on Munster. Ninety per cent of the supporters in Cardiff will have made the journey from Limerick or Cork and they will scream like banshees from start to finish. More importantly still, Declan Kidney is in the happy position of having a full-strength combination at his disposal. About to head onwards and upwards as the new coach of Ireland, Kidney could name the entire Munster pack for his first international and sleep easy. They are quite some unit when the force is with them, and pretty damned handy when it isn't.

Toulouse, on the other hand, are in bits. Some of those bits have been pieced back together in time for this contest – Byron Kelleher, the All Blacks' scrum-half at last year's World Cup, is just about fit to start, while the brilliant centre Florian Fritz is more or less able to take a seat on the bench – but with the likes of Vincent Clerc and Clément Poitrenaud still hors de combat, they are struggling for back-line balance.

Yesterday, the Toulouse coach Guy Noves – a high achiever in the grand tradition of Pierre Villepreux and Jean-Claude Skrela, if immeasurably more combustible than either of his revered predecessors – described the current campaign as "the hardest the club has ever had to negotiate". However, he also pointed out that despite the body count, his side have reached the knock-out stage of the French Championship as well as the Heineken final. They may be on the collective equivalent of one leg, but that leg is far from the worst.

Kidney, ever wary, has been talking in terms of the "ultimate contest" – not as a means of getting his excuses in first, but in genuine admiration for the opposition. "We are under no illusions about this," he said. "Everyone models themselves on Toulouse, their passion and their skill. It doesn't get any easier, this competition, but it's a privilege to be involved."

The Frenchmen have made two changes to the starting line-up that did for London Irish in last month's semi-final at Twickenham. The Fijian back Maleli Kunavore comes into midfield alongside the arch-mesmeriser Yannick Jauzion, while Thierry Dusautoir replaces Yannick Nyanga in the back row. The last time Dusautoir played a game of rugby in Cardiff, seven months ago, he made 38 tackles in helping France find a way past New Zealand in the World Cup quarter-final. Anyone still doubting that this was the most astonishing individual performance of the season might like to know that the All Blacks made less than 40 between them.

For all David Wallace's many qualities, Munster do not have a loose forward nearly as good as Dusautoir. By the same yardstick, they do not have a centre like Jauzion or a hooker with William Servat's range of skills or a scrummager as powerful as Salvatore Perugini. But they have strength in other areas, from Doug Howlett on the wing to Paul O'Connell in the second row. More than that, they are a tight-knit unit with complete trust in each other. They win close games more often than anyone, they have a "16th man" in terms of support and they know what it is to beat Toulouse in a big Heineken Cup match, having prevailed in a semi-final in Bordeaux in 2000.

Mind you, Toulouse replied in kind three years later. It is impossible to slip more than a fag paper between them.

Munster: D Hurley; D Howlett, L Mafi, R Tipoki, I Dowling; R O'Gara, T O'Leary; M Horan, J Flannery, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell (capt), A Quinlan, D Wallace, D Leamy. Replacements: F Sheahan, T Buckley, M O'Driscoll, D Ryan, P Stringer, P Warwick, K Earls.

Toulouse: C Heymans; M Médard, M Kunavore, Y Jauzion, Y Donguy; J-B Elissalde, B Kelleher; D Human, W Servat, S Perugini, F Pelous, P Albacete, J Bouilhou, T Dusautoir, S Sowerby. Replacements: A Vernet Basualdo, J-B Poux, R Millo-Chluski, Y Nyanga, F Fritz, M Ahotaeiloa, V Courrent.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence