Rugby Union

Munster rugby must put in above-average display to deny Toulon

Ireland's Peter O'Mahony (centre) and team-mates celebrate after winning the NatWest 6 Nations Grand Slam with victory over England at Twickenham Stadium, London on St Patrick's Day, Saturday March 17 2018.

MUNSTER captain Peter O'Mahony knows just how tough a test Toulon can bring.

He was forced to watch from the wings in 2014 as the then-defending Heineken Cup champions battled hard to deny Munster 24-16 at the semi-final stage.

Jonny Wilkinson kicked 21 points that day as the Top 14 side set up a May 24 final against Saracens at the Millennium Stadium.

Now O'Mahony, fresh from his Grand Slam-winning exploits with Ireland, returns to the provincial side as they prepare to face Toulon this afternoon.

Munster and Toulon, two teams with five European titles between them, meet at Thomond Park today, while there is an all-French clash on Sunday when Clermont Auvergne host Racing 92.

"We've come up against Toulon a few times," O'Mahony said on MunsterRugby.ie. "The calibre of player they have is incredible, with big, big forwards.

"We can talk about them all day, but we've got to have a good look at ourselves as well and put our best foot forward on Saturday. If we play averagely, or just above average, we will probably have a good score put on us."

O'Mahony was at the Munster helm as they flattened Toulouse 41-16 in last season's quarter-finals and called for a repeat performance this weekend.

"At the end of the day, all of those big wins we've seen in Thomond Park come down to big performances on the day," he told the Munster website.

"We get incredible support - relentlessly over the years - and it will certainly be a factor, but we have to prepare ourselves to put in a huge performance to match the one the supporters will put in."

Munster head coach Johann van Graan also knows it will be a difficult task against Toulon but the accomplished South African says he is "relishing the opportunity".

"I think it's why we work in rugby - for moments like this.

''It's my first one with Munster. I was lucky enough to be part of Super Rugby finals and semi-finals, and a World Cup semi-final and play-off games.

"This is unique.”

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MEANWHILE, England star Owen Farrell has been named in the Saracens team for Sunday's European Champions Cup quarter-final clash against Leinster.

Owen Farrell has been included in the Saracens side for their meeting with Leinster, even though he remains rated as 50-50.

Farrell suffered a quad muscle injury during England's Six Nations loss to Ireland at Twickenham 13 days ago.

Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said earlier this week that Farrell probably had a 50-50 chance of making the Leinster game. He missed last Saturday's Aviva Premiership victory over Harlequns.

Captain Brad Barritt also features after having surgery on a fractured cheekbone in midweek.

Barritt believes the Champions Cup holders will face "the form team in Europe" this weekend.

Leinster, packed with members of Ireland's Six Nations title and Grand Slam-winning team, cruised through their qualifying group by claiming six successive victories and collecting 27 points from a possible 30, leaving Exeter, Montpellier and Glasgow in their slipstream.

"We know what is on the line now, we know we are playing against the form team in Europe," former England centre Barritt said.

"However, we know as the Saracens team when we are close to what we can do in terms if our performance, we go there with full confidence.

"This team has always thrived on these big occasions and going to these big stadiums. We got a taste for it last year with the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium against Munster.

"We were outnumbered in fans and in not having the comfort you have at home, but this team is galvanised by these experiences.

"We had a similar challenge in 2013, when we finished as eighth seed and had to go to Ravenhill for Ulster, who were the top seeds. It was probably an even more daunting environment in terms of a passionate home crowd.

"Playing at the Aviva Stadium is probably a little bit in our favour in that it is not Leinster's out and out home ground. They don't play there every week.

"It is a huge opportunity for this team (Saracens) to stake a claim. Win this game and you are in the hunt and you have a semi-final in your own country."

Elsewhere, Sale Sharks have revealed that centre Will Addison is to join Ulster next season as the 25-year-old bids to stake a claim for a place on the Ireland squad, writes John Flack.

Addison, who was born in the lake district of England, qualifies to play for Ireland because of his family background.

He will give the province added cover in midfield alongside Irish internationals Luke Marshall, Stuart McCloskey and Darren Cave, with uncertainty surrounding the future of Stuart Olding in that position.

Addison, a former England Under 20 international came through the Sale Academy, and has played over 100 games for the Cheshire club where he has also lined out at wing and full-back.

A statement on the club's website said Addison would be leaving the club "to embark upon a new challenge with Ulster".

"We all wish him well in his desire to play international rugby." said Sale's director of rugby Steve Diamond.

"It has been a pleasure to work with Will. He has captained the side this season and the enthusiasm and desire he brings will be missed."

Ulster resume their PRO14 campaign with trip to Murrayfield to face Edinburgh next Friday night.

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