Graham Rowntree has classified Munster’s next opponents Toulouse as his developing side’s benchmark team as he looks to take the province’s run of good form into the Heineken Champions Cup this Sunday.
Munster welcome the five-time European champions back to Thomond Park for the first time since France scrum-half Antoine Dupont inspired his side to a 40-33 Round of 16 victory en route to their fifth title in 2021.
While that game was played behind closed doors in the middle of a Covid-19 lockdown, the province announced on Wednesday that ticket sales have exceeded 20,000 for this weekend’s pool opener and Munster’s head coach explained why the fixture offers such a compelling test of his players’ development under new management this season.
Asked if Toulouse represented a benchmark team for his own, Rowntree said: "Absolutely, they're good at everything. Their league position suggests that, good at everything.
"They've threats, great players, trick plays, power game. We've got our hands full.
"It's a real European giant coming to Thomond."
Rowntree was Munster’s forwards coach under Johann van Graan for the province’s last two meetings with Toulouse, the most recent of which came last May at Aviva Stadium when the French giants, currently leading the Top 14, squeaked home on penalty kicks following a 24-24 draw after extra time.
Yet the new Munster boss, who will take charge of his first European game on Sunday since succeeding van Graan, said last season’s quarter-final heartbreak had not been used by him to provide motivation this time around.
"It's not been spoken about, that game. It was a special, special afternoon. What we've looked at is their current form and it's undeniable what their threats are and the talent they've got in that group.
"So, we've analysed them and we've prepped it like a normal week by looking at their recent games. We've not looked at the Aviva game so far."
A more relevant touchstone for Munster as far as Rowntree is concerned is last month’s victory over South Africa A, achieved in front of 41,400 supporters in a historic first game at Cork’s Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
It was Munster’s best performance on his watch as the boss, a 28-14 win against a team littered with Springboks, and has sparked back-to-back bonus-point URC wins at home to Connacht and last Friday’s 38-17 win at Edinburgh that have given his side much-needed momentum heading into this season’s Champions Cup after a shaky start to the league campaign.
“It was a different energy, wasn't it?” Rowntree said.
“As soon as the game was announced back in the summer, there was a real excitement. This club has had some wonderful nights against international opposition, and then you get to the week itself... we had a week off and a short week going into the game, there was just a different excitement, a different pressure, or maybe a lack of pressure, and the understanding we're playing a national team.
“We had a good night the night before, a gala dinner, and you could feel the energy driving up to the stadium, people standing outside the pubs, and as the game started we started well and the crowd got behind us, Zombie playing, and some of the lads have spoken of it being the best game they ever played in, and that energy has continued since then.”