Heineken Cup preview: Munster host Toulouse at Thomond Park
Toulouse travel to Thomond Park to face Munster on Saturday afternoon as the Heineken Cup quarter-finals get under way.
Last Updated: 05/04/14 12:39pm
Both sides enter the last eight having topped their respective pools with five wins and a solitary loss, leaving little to choose between the sides in terms of European form.
Having been handed arguably the easiest pool draw of the any of the European heavyweights, many expected Toulouse to be playing on home soil in the knockout stages.
Victory at Wembley over Saracens should have been enough to book a quarter-final at Stade Ernest Wallon, but a shock defeat to Connacht, in Toulouse, put a dent in Europe's most successful club's hopes for a fifth title.
That shock defeat has become emblematic of Toulouse's inconsistent form this season with a series of disappointing results - especially on the road - leaving them in serious danger of missing the French playoffs for the first time since the creation of the Top 14.
Indeed, they are without a win in their last four outings, with a 32-28 defeat at the hands of defending Heineken Cup champions Toulon seeing them slip to sixth in the domestic standings last weekend.
Meanwhile, Munster have similarly endured a turbulent period of late in the RaboDirect Pro12, losing two of their last five matches, their latest reverse coming against rivals - and fellow quarter-finalists - Leinster before a capacity crowd at the Aviva Stadium.
The hosts will hope to emulate Ireland's final day success over France which clinched the Six Nations last month, as passion triumphed over class.
Munster captain Peter O'Mahony returned to full training on Thursday and has been cleared to make Rob Penney's starting XV.
The Ireland flanker was in Munster's squad last weekend but made a last-minute withdrawal due to a hamstring injury.
The only other change to the side sees James Downey renew his centre partnership with Casey Laulala.
With O'Mahony back in the fold, CJ Stander moves to the replacements while John Ryan takes the place of James Cronin who is ruled out with an ankle sprain.
Toulouse have made ten changes to the side that narrowly lost to Toulon last week as French internationals Maxime Medard, Gaël Fickou and Yoann Maestri return having been rested.
Joe Tekori starts in the back row having featured at lock last week as Patricio Albacete starts, while Jano Vermaak is preferred at scrum-half.
Louis Picamoles has been passed fit and starts at number eight but there are still doubts over Yannick Nyanga and Luke McAlister, who are possibilities off the bench.
Munster: 15 Jones, 14 Earls, 13 Laulala, 12 Downey, 11 Zebo, 10 Keatley, 9 Murray; 1 Kilcoyne, 2 Varley, 3 Botha, 4 Foley, 5 O'Connell, 6 O'Mahony (c), 7 O'Donnell, 8 Coughlan.
Replacements: 16 Casey, 17 Ryan, 18 Cotter, 19 O'Callaghan, 20 Stander, 21 Williams, 22 Hanrahan, 23 Van den Heever.
Toulouse: 15 Medard, 14 Huget, 13 Fritz, 12 Fickou, 11 Gear, 10 Beauxis, 9 Vermaak; 1 Steenkamp, 2 Tolofua, 3 Montes, 4 Maestri, 5 Albacete (c), 6 Camara, 7 Tekori, 8 Picamoles.
Replacements: 16 Bregvadze, 17 Baille, 18 Ferreira, 19 Millo-Chluski, 20 Galan, 21 Doussain, 22 McAlister, 23 Nyanga.
Watch Munster v Toulouse live on Sky Sports 2 from 1pm on Saturday