MUNSTER scrum-half Conor Murray was a raw teenager when the province defeated Toulouse in that Heineken Cup final six years ago. This week the Limerickman is gearing up to play against the French aristocrats for the first time in his career.
Murray can feel the sense of anticipation and excitement growing on Shannonside all week.
6 Nations winning scrum-half Murray said: “That 2008 final was a special memory. I remember the 2008 final as clear as day. I was at home watching it with the lads in Patrickswell. I remember going out into the garden to play rugby at half time to pretend we were there in the Millennium Stadium.
“It is going to be a huge occasion again this weekend. You can already sense it. I was in town yesterday and you can already feel the buzz building. Everyone is aware of it.
“Munster supporters are very knowledgeable. They are not just wishing you the best of luck, they are chatting to you about the game and how we are going to play. You just know there is a big game at the end of the week by the way they are acting.
“We have to start really well on Saturday, give the supporters at Thomond Park something to cheer about. That is going to come from the first 10-20 minutes. If we play well, the crowd will feel off that.
“Once they get going they create a special atmosphere. They might help you get off the ground that half a second faster and get back into that defensive line.”
Murray admits last weekend’s defeat to Leinster hurt a lot, but it is important the squad park that game, learn from it and move on to the challenge of facing Toulouse.
Murray said: “The defeat against Leinster was hard to take, but you couldn’t ask for better preparation for the game coming up with Toulouse. There were aspects of the game which were disappointing.
“We did get into a 12-3 lead at one stage and probably stopped playing, maybe kicked a bit to much. We have looked at that earlier in the week. We have parked it and hopefully learned from it.”
Murray is acutely aware of the threat Toulouse’s backline pose on Saturday. He saw it first hand when Ireland played France in the 6 Nations in Paris last month.
Murray said: “You only have to look at the number of lads Toulouse had playing for the French team and how well they played in the 6 Nations. They have threatening runners, especially their back three. I heard a stat that their back three scored 70% of their tries this season. They will run it from anywhere.
“I think we didn’t play enough against Leinster. We know if we do play and take teams through the phases, we can create loads of try-scoring opportunities.
“I don’t think Keith Earls touched the ball in the first half which was quite worrying for us. Saying that, we played a different kind of rugby in the first half and built a 12-3 lead and you are not going to complain about that playing Leinster,.
“In the second half we should have played more, held onto the ball more and got our game plan and shape going. We probably kicked a little bit too much.”
Despite reaching the dizzying heights of playing for the Lions last summer and winning a 6 Nations championship with Ireland this spring, Murray says there is still huge pressure involved in Saturday’s clash.
“It is still a huge, huge week and there is still huge pressure involved,” Murray said.
“Coming back from the 6 Nations, there is probably a bit more expected of you because it had gone well.
“I said earlier, we are a young squad and there is a lot of pressure on younger players. I see myself in that bracket.
“Over the last few years, my knowledge of the game has improved and I know what is required to win a game, what we need to do well and where we need to play a game. It is just an experience thing I have gained over the past few years that will help me this week.
“Heineken Cup is something I grew up with. I didn’t always go up to Dublin to watch the Irish games, but I grew up around the Heineken Cup and watching Munster play. It is really special to me.”