Johann van Graan happy that Munster’s momentum just right for Toulouse test

Head coach thrilled Munster fans will travel in big numbers to the Aviva Stadium

Johann van Graan believes his Munster side are in a much better place than was the case when beaten 40-33 in the Round of 16 by Toulouse 13 months ago as they prepare for next Saturday's Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against the French and European champions at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 3pm).

Whereas last season’s meeting came within a fortnight of the Six Nations finale, and a week after the Pro 14 final defeat by Leinster, Munster have had a run of six games coming into this fixture.

“We’ve good continuity in our team, we’ve been together now for a number of games after the Six Nations, so some good continuity in our team. We’re another year together, and from a development point of view, a lot of guys have gained a lot of experience.

“It’s the second time in a year we’ll play Toulouse, and a lot of guys have got more experience in our journey as a group. We’d like to believe we’re in a better spot a year on, but every game is different. It’s a new challenge, a new venue, different teams, new referee and it’ll certainly be a challenge on Saturday afternoon.”

Munster also have the momentum and confidence generated by successive wins over Exeter, Ulster and Cardiff.

“I’d like to think so. The double-header against Exeter, we came out positively out of those games. We made some changes to the team using our squad, went to Ulster, and specifically that first-half performance was excellent and we ground out another win there.

“We came back to Cork against a Cardiff side that played really well, that was our highest ball-in-play of the season, so that was excellent preparation for what’s to come in terms of stretching us. What was impressive about that game from a coach’s point of view was that every time we conceded we hit straight back.

“It might be that type of game on Saturday, both teams will have a go. You might concede or score, and the threat will be on the other side of the ball straight away. We like to think we’re in good form but nothing else matters except what happens on Saturday at three o’clock. We’ll have to be at our very best.”

Furthermore, whereas last season’s Round of 16 tie was played behind closed doors at Thomond Park, over 31,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday’s quarter-final.

“One other big difference this year is we have our 16th man, we have the Red Army travelling to Dublin,” said Van Graan. “It’s already the second highest attendance for a Munster quarter-final in our history. We are banking on our 16th man to make a massive difference on Saturday in Dublin.”

While John Hodnett [knee] will "begin a period of rehabilitation following his consultation with a specialist and will be managed with the medical department", and Tadhg Beirne is still sidelined, Andrew Conway has recovered from his knee injury to return to full training this week and Van Graan said "preparation is all running smoothly".

“There are no big injuries from the weekend, we have one or two players back in training and we have an off-day tomorrow. We’ll make our final decisions on selection Thursday, a few tough decisions to make, which is a great position to be in. We’ll travel to Dublin on Friday and then finish our prep for the game on Saturday.”

All that said and done, Van Graan accepted facing Toulouse will be “a massive challenge”.

“You play the reigning Champions Cup champions, the French Top 14 champions, they’ve got 10 guys in that [French] Six Nations team, [Antoine] Dupont has been the player of the Six Nations, and then if you look back in history Toulouse have won their last four games against Irish opposition in Ireland,” he said in reference to their pool wins away to Connacht two seasons ago and Ulster last season, as well as the last 16 victories against Munster last season and Ulster this season.

“That tells you the task ahead. That’s something we’re embracing and looking forward to. It’s our 10th successive game, and we worked for this one, and we’re really looking forward to it.”

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