Munster's Heineken Champions quarter-final at home to five-times winners Toulouse will be moved to the Aviva Stadium because Thomond Park is hosting two Ed Sheeran concerts on Thursday May 5th and Friday May 6th.
The quarter-finals are scheduled for that weekend - May 6th to 8th - and with over 70,000 tickets sold for the two Sheeran concerts, it will take weeks for the pitch to be playable again.
The allotted weekends for the Champions Cup, including the quarter-finals, were announced in July 2021, while the dates for the Sheeran concerts were confirmed the following September.
The Munster branch will point out that the last major concert in Limerick was performed by Bruce Springsteen in 2013 and the Sheeran concerts will bring a multi-million economic boost to the city and the mid-west region.
Aside from the income generated by the Sheeran concerts, Munster will also receive an enhanced 65 per cent in ticket sales from moving the quarter-final to the Aviva Stadium rather than the 50-50 split had the game been held in Thomond Park. Cork’s gaelic football Munster Championship game at home to Kerry also has to be moved from Páirc Uí Chaoimh due to Sheeran’s concerts there.
Toulouse beat Munster by 40-33 at an empty Thomond Park last season but Munster overcame the five-times winners at their Limerick citadel at the quarter-final stage in 2014 (by 47-23) and 2017 (41-16), and undoubtedly switching the tie to Dublin will diminish their home advantage.
“They are the current European champions so they will be a massive challenge but I think we’ve got to look forward to it,” said Johann van Graan.
“We’ve enjoyed the season from a group perspective inside. I know there’s a lot of noise on the outside but inside it’s been a very enjoyable season. Everybody’s all in and from a group perspective, from a coaches’ perspective we really enjoyed the day and we set out to enjoy the day. We spoke about knockout rugby, that takes a huge performance and we delivered that.”
Last Saturday's 26-10 win over the 2021 champions Exeter at Thomond Park to complete a hard-earned 34-23 victory on aggregate was a significant day in Munster's season, despite manifold disruptions and distractions in an eventful campaign.
"To be successful you need to come through hard times and we've lost a few close ones over the last few weekends. Obviously the Leinster game didn't go our way but we kept just focusing on ourselves, going through our process which I felt we did really well.
“As I’ve said before, this team dreams big dreams and we’ve got big dreams for the season. In order for us to get through to a European quarter-final, stating the very obvious, we needed to come through by more than five and we came through with 11 so we’ll take 11.”
Van Graan was unsure as to whether any of Tadhg Beirne, Dave Kilcoyne or Andrew Conway might fit for the quarter-final in three weeks' time, but certainly won't be available for next Friday's URC match away to Ulster. "I'd say all three won't be back for the next week or so."
Ulster were denied a home quarter-final against Munster after two pulsating encounters with Toulouse, and led by ten points on aggregate in Saturday's second leg at the Kingspan Stadium before a converted 75th minute try by Antoine Dupont earned Toulouse a 30-23 win on the night and a 50-49 win on aggregate.
The game pivoted on a 65th minute red card for prop Tom O'Toole for a high hit on Anthony Jelonch, and in truth it ought to have been a double red card as Rob Herring also caught the Toulouse flanker with an upright shoulder to the head.
A dejected Dan McFarland pointed to the red card, the concession of two soft first half tries and a key and a highly questionable penalty against James Hume in his side's missed opportunity.
“The game was there for us to win. We won over there last week. We should have won by 13 points last week. Here we’re in the game competing with them and the game was decided because we did a few critical things that were wrong.”
In the same half of the draw, which now features four previous winners with 13 titles between them, as expected Leicester Tigers secured a home quarter-final against Leinster at Welford Road by cruising past Clermont.
There are no previous winners in the other half of the draw, with Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle hosting Montpellier while Racing 92, where attack coach Mike Prendergast must be on Munster's radar, will entertain Sale. The dates and kick-off times will be resolved by the middle of the week.
Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final line-up
Racing 92 v Sale Sharks, La Defense Arena.
La Rochelle v Montpellier, Stade Marcel Deflandre.
Munster v Toulouse, Aviva Stadium.
Leicester Tigers v Leinster, Welford Road.