GUY NOVES has described Saturday’s Heineken Cup final in Cardiff as “the dream final”, saying Munster are a side every club and province aspires to in European rugby.
Noves yesterday took his squad through their penultimate training session and afterwards the coach produced a passable impression of Declan Kidney’s pre-match routine: talking up the opposition.
It appears playing Munster at this stage of the competition for the first time is the greatest challenge of his 17-year reign as head coach at the club.
Importantly from a Toulouse perspective, he also pointed out that his team will not be intimidated by the expected 50,000 Munster supporters that will certainly raise the roof inside the Millennium Stadium.
Forwards coach, Yannick Bru, who faced Munster as a player in 2000 and 2003, also described Saturday’s final between the number one and two ERC-ranked sides as a “home game for Munster”, before adding that his team will not fear playing in front of such enormous Munster support.
“As far as the support is concerned,” said Noves, “we’ll be playing this game in a context where everything is against us in terms of the number of Munster supporters. But we will use that to our advantage — a threatened animal is far more dangerous than one that is happy.”
Noves said: “Saturday is a dream match. To be involved in any final is special, but the cherry on the cake is meeting Munster.”
Last week former Leinster backs coach, David Knox, criticised Kidney’s coaching techniques and management skills but Noves — who will lead Toulouse to their fifth final — lavished praise on Kidney’s contribution in helping advance Munster into a modern unit.
“Declan has massively progressed the team. It’s no longer a forward-orientated team. They play much more modern rugby and they rely far less on the kicking game, particularly (Ronan) O’Gara. With their new signings in the centre they have a far more dangerous back line.”
Toulouse will not be at their most dangerous, however, mainly due to the season-ending injuries to dynamic three-quarters, Clement Poitrenaud and Vincent Clerc. Noves’ forwards assistant, Bru, expects Florian Fritz (ankle) and Byron Kelleher (thigh strain) to be fit for Saturday, but admitted that the club’s punishing schedule of games has seriously hampered their preparations for the final.
Said Bru: “Everybody knows the biggest difficulty for us is to compete and to challenge on two fronts (Top 14 and Heineken Cup). Since the quarter final against Cardiff, we had to compete every weekend. I remember before the semi-final we hosted Clermont Auvergne here but we lost.
“We lost Vincent Clerc who picked up a season-ending knee injury. It’s crazy in France to have to compete in so many games and it has been very difficult for us and for the players to find the motivation to play the Top 14 since the quarter-final.
“Munster’s preparations have been more straightforward than ours because they have a lot of recovery (time). We know they don’t play their best starting XV in the Magners League every time.
Bru believes the Toulouse backline has suffered with the absence of Clerc and Poitrenaud: “They are a big loss. We have had to modify our game-plan because our backline picked up a lot of injuries this season. I think Clermont, Florian and Vincent are main players and we have had to change our plans coming towards the end of the season.
“We saw in many games everything was not perfect in our backline but that’s because of the injuries. It is very difficult to replace players as talented as that trio.”
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