Toulon out to dethrone mighty Toulouse
June 8, 2012
Jonny Wilkinson was the hero as Toulon made the Top 14 Final © Getty Images
Toulon are out to unseat mighty Toulouse as champions of France on Saturday, with Mourad Boudjellal's megabucks team eyeing a first title since 1992.
Guy Noves and Toulouse have been here many times before and finished the league stages of this season's Top 14 atop the pile. Toulon have one upset under their belt already, having defeated Clermont Auvergne - who finished level on points with Toulouse - 15-12 in the semi-finals thanks to the boot of Jonny Wilkinson.
Expect a huge battle up-front and for the kickers to have a lot of work - in 160 minutes, neither semi-final produced a try - as Noves guns for back-to-back titles and a telling win over the noisy neighbours.
Toulouse - Player to Watch: After years of sterling service, William Servat will hang up his boots, win or lose. The hooker has been one of the best in the world for some time and will want to sign off in style.
Toulouse - Team News: Yves Donguy is promoted to the left wing at the expense of Timoci Matanavou and will be joined in the back three by fullbacl Clement Poitrenaud and fellow winger Vincent Clerc. Luke McAlister and Florian Fritz team up in the centres with Lionel Beauxis at fly-half and Jean-Marc Doussain at scrum-half. Jean-Baptiste Poux, William Servat and Cencus Johnston form a powerful front row that will be backed up by the second row duo of Yoann Maestri and Patricio Albacete. Skipper Thierry Dusautoir packs down at openside alongside Jean Bouilhou and No.8 Louis Picamoles.
Toulon - Player to Watch: Jonny Wilkinson brought his kicking boots for the semi-final and will require them again if Toulon are to upset the odds. The former England fly-half has become Mr.Toulon in recent seasons and will be keen to cap his time there with silverware.
Toulon - Team News: Benjamin Lapeyre is back at fullback with Alexis Palisson and David Smith retaining their spots on the wings. Matt Giteau and Mathieu Bastareaud will once again form the midfield partnership and the halfback pairing of Jonny Wilkinson and Sebastien Tillous-Borde is also unchanged. Eifion Roberts, Sebastien Bruno and Davit Kubriashvili pack down in the front row, veterans Bakkies Botha and Simon Shaw feature in the second row and the back-row trio of Joe van Niekerk, Steffon Armitage and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe complete the line-up.
Key Battle: The openside battle pitches Toulouse talisman and France captain Thierry Dusautoir against in-form Englishman Steffon Armitage against each other. The game may have changed and the influence of the No.7s may not be as great as it once was, but rest assured these two inspirational figures will have a major say in proceedings at the Stade de France.
Trivia: As Leinster's Brad Thorn did just a few weeks ago, Toulon lock Bakkies Botha could wrap up a remarkable career title haul. The former Springbok has already won the Rugby World Cup as well as Super Rugby and Currie Cup titles with the Bulls.
Stats: Toulouse have won eight Championships since Toulon last had their hands on the Bouclier de Brennus in 1992.
"We will be preparing much differently for the final against Toulon than we would have done for Clermont. We will have to adapt our strategy. We are expecting a complicated match. For me there is no favourite." - Toulouse coach Guy Noves talks up Toulon's hopes.
"It was a great match and an important result for us. Now we are in the final and we have to do everything we can to get the result that we want. Getting to the final is good, but if we win it, it would be phenomenal." - Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson reflects on victory over Clermont Auvergne.
Prediction: Toulouse will take this clash by the narrowest of margins
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