Malakai Fekitoa says the importance of the Heineken Champions Cup to Munster Rugby has become clear since he joined the Irish province this summer.
The former New Zealand centre came with 13 EPCR appearances to his name and says it was immediately obvious how highly EPCR’s elite competition is regarded by Munster and their fans.
Munster lifted the Heineken Cup 2006 and 2008 in and have reached the quarter-finals of the tournament a joint-record 19 times.
“I didn’t realise [how much the Heineken Champions Cup means to Munster] until I came in and saw how not only the club, but the people around the town, and the fans let you know,” he explained. “I think everyone at Munster is very excited for the campaign.
“It’s probably the biggest club competition in the world. Now that we have South Africa [involved], some of the best players in the world are playing in this competition.
“We know [they will bring] physicality, the reach to the South African fans – you know how much they love their rugby. [They will] bring some world-class players into the competition, to make it even tougher than it already is.”
🦌 @Munsterrugby have a score to settle…
Having exited in one of the cruelest ways last year, how far could they go in #HeinekenChampionsCup this season?
Preview ➡️ https://t.co/s0O23ObUW4 pic.twitter.com/RNJC69P7L4
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) November 28, 2022
Munster host Stade Toulousain in their opening game of this season’s competition on Saturday, a re-run of last campaign’s dramatic quarter-final which ended in defeat for the United Rugby Championship (URC) outfit after a place kick competition.
Despite the agony of that loss, Fekitoa says the team are not getting caught up in exacting revenge on the TOP 14 side.
“For us, we just have to focus on our performance week in, week out,” he stated. “We’ve got two big teams in Northampton [Saints] and Toulouse, so we have to focus on that first and I think if we can get ourselves right then we will head towards the right direction.
“These two clubs have played some unbelievable games in the past, [Toulouse] are a big club who have achieved great things in the competition.”
Fekitoa went on to underline the importance of a strong showing in the pool stage, with home advantage in the knockout stage on offer for the top performing sides.
“That’s massive (getting home advantage),” he said. “We know how much it means to play at home. For us at Munster, we know we back ourselves at home.”