In an incredible display of rugby last weekend, Munster hosted Toulouse in the Champions Cup quarter final in a packed stadium. The game was class from start to finish and only served to lay down a further marker with regards to the quality of rugby up North. South Africans are dying to be involved in the show piece next year, but in order to get there, a lot of rugby must still be played.
Leading by 10 points at a stage, Toulouse fought back hard to draw the game level at 80 minutes. A late 56m penalty attempt from Ben Healy was not to be as it just sailed wide, leading to the first extra time play in Champions Cup history. A further 20 minutes of play couldn't declare a winner, with each side making failed attempts at a drop goal. With all things tied at the 100 minute mark, off we went to a penalty shoot out. Unfortunately for Munster, missed from Connor Murray and Ben Healy meant they lost by the most narrow of margins.
Leinster are set to face last years Champions Toulouse this weekend and South African fans should be throwing their support behind the French side as the result there could have a direct impact on their play-off prospects in the URC. Leinster are the top ranked URC side and no matter what happens in the final round, will remain there. However Munster is in 2nd place on the log, level with the Sharks and Stormers and only 1 point adrift of Ulster.
In the final round of the regular season, Munster are set to face Leinster and if Munster play like that again, they could beat Leinster. Munster will be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this fixture as a win for them could see them secure 2nd spot on the log, and along with that the right to host both a home quarter and semi-final. Having dropped out of the Champions Cup race, Munster will be able to send a full playing compliment into their clash with Leinster, which would likely see them get the win.
Leinster however, should they beat Toulouse this weekend, would play a similar side to that which toured SA recently before loading up their squad ahead of the play-off's. Their focus would remain on the final of the Champions Cup for the time being, something I'm sure Munster are banking on. However, if Leinster lose to Toulouse, it is possible that they immediately refocus their resources on the URC challenge, to build some momentum before the quarter-finals. A lot rests on their result this weekend.
The South African sides will be hoping that Munster suffer a defeat against Leinster in the final round as this would allow the Sharks and Stormers the chance of hosting home quarter-finals and possibly a semi-final. The Sharks will play Ulster, also a crucial fixture as a loss there could see 3 Irish sides in the top 3, proving to be a massive obstacle in the SA hunt for silverware. The best chance of a Munster defeat lay with a Leinster loss to Toulouse this weekend.
With 1 round left, the URC is set for an action packed return ahead of the play-offs and the SA sides have everything to play for, with most of their destiny still firmly in their hands and a little hope of some assistance from Leinster along the way.