Despite the stitching of five stars on their chests to denote their status as the aristocrats of European rugby, the bellies of Toulouse will be fired with a sense of lingering injustice tomorrow, which many Munster fans of a particular age might well identify with.
efore they consummated their grand odyssey of this early century, Munster’s quest had been tortured by occasional grievances against officials, whether a linesman’s flag or unsympathetic fixture organisers in Europe HQ.
Despite the French side’s status as champions – in 2021, they bookended wins in the first (1996) and most recent staging to stand proudly aloof with five titles to their name, and notwithstanding the galaxy of Grand Slam winners amongst their playing ranks, Les Toulousains have often seemed to be Les Misérables this term.
Fresh from a touchline spat with La Rochelle’s Ronan O’Gara in a league clash, Toulouse’s coach Ugo Mola issued a less-than-subtle dig at his media critics as his side kept their domestic play-off hopes alive with a victory.
“We are looking for motivation everywhere,” he raged. “But it is true that the journalists of your company have really been looking for all your consultants to try to say ‘the Toulouse hole’, and that we would not get out of it, that it would be very complicated.
“So we’re happy to beat a team that’s in good shape, or even very fit, and then we’re going to switch to the European Cup, hoping that the environment in our room is a little more positive than yours.”
Even their progress in Europe – where they have been the most formidable flag-bearers in a competition that has not always enjoyed consistent support from the overly domesticated Top 14 animals – has not been without controversy.
Which is probably why their decorated former full-back and current backs coach Clement Poitrenaud – he of the last-minute faux pas in that famous 2004 final loss to Wasps – decided to lob a verbal volley into the fray yesterday.
“Playing at the Aviva is interesting for us, the event is going to be special,” he said, with a French flutter of the eyelashes, before adding caustically: “They are not really at home. We hope to have supporters behind us this weekend.”
They feel they should be at home.
Much of their grievance stems from the Covid controversies that hampered the competition in the pool stages when a series of unplayed games resulted in 28-0 victories for opponents, with the French side suffering twice.
Once, a cancellation meant they only received two points from a fixture against Wasps, but they were truly stung when officials ruled that a Covid outbreak in their camp resulted in them not being able to replicate last December’s bonus-point win away against a hapless Cardiff side in the January tie.
That scenario left them clinging on to qualification until the final day, although it would have required a freak set of results to deny them a knockout slot.
Ironically, Munster made sure any such worries were eased with a handsome win against Wasps.
However, they were forced away in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie against pool winners Ulster.
They threatened legal action over the Cardiff cancellation and there was even government intervention; ultimately, they exploded their ire on the field – twice engineering last-gasp tries to see off Ulster.
As was once the case with Munster in the past, sometimes champions can become even better when bitter.