Toulouse aim to confirm their place as the greatest club on the continent by lifting the European Cup for a record fourth time against Munster today.
The French aristocrats were crowned European champions in 1996, 2003 and 2005, but arguably face their toughest test yet against the most consistent team in the competition’s history.
But Irish powerhouses Munster have made an art of grinding out results and are the only team to have reached the knock-out stages of Europe every year for the last decade.
Fabien Pelous, the Toulouse captain who has already lifted the European Cup twice, is braced for a titanic struggle between the two clubs who have dominated Europe for the past 13 years.
“Munster are a team of much the same quality and standing as ourselves on the European level,” Pelous said. “They have plenty of experience and — like us — have a tremendous relationship with a tournament which has been so successful for them. We have an enormous respect for Munster because, whatever happens, they are always massively efficient in the competition.”
Toulouse are missing the lethal finishing of injured wing Vincent Clerc, the second-highest try scorer in the competition’s history, as well as France full-back Clermont Poitrenaud, but still possess a wealth of match-winners in center Yannick Jauzion, fly-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and former All Black scrum-half Byron Kelleher.
That Munster have only once gone all the way to win the trophy, in 2006 also against French opposition, tells its own story, though they will still hope history is on their side when they return to the scene of that cup final glory, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Since then, Munster have added the thrust of Kiwis Lifeimi Mafi and Doug Howlett to the durability of British Lions Paul O’Connell, Ronan O’Gara and David Wallace.
But they still showed typical determination to emerge from the so-called “Group of Death” that included holders London Wasps, to win on the road against Gloucester and then Saracens to reach a fourth final for their coach Declan Kidney, before he departs to take up the Ireland job.
“Declan has led us to all the finals and it would be great to give him another trophy,” Wallace said.