Ospreys geared up for fortress Mayol
October 8, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson could well be key for Toulon © Getty Images
Toulon begin their Heineken Cup adventure on Saturday, welcoming the Ospreys to the Stade Mayol in one of the opening round's most glamorous ties.
Philippe Saint-Andre is able to call on a star-studded squad but will come face to face with an Ospreys selection not lacking in international pedigree. The Magners League champions are desperate to progress beyond the quarter-finals after several frustrating seasons but to do so they must first overcome Toulon and then the twin might of Munster and London Irish.
Whether Toulon's desire for home glory outweighs their need to impress in Europe remains to be seen, but no team will find it easy going at the Mayol.
Toulon - Player to Watch: As always, all eyes will be on Jonny Wilkinson. The England fly-half has been at his reliable best so far this season and will likely want to dish out a lesson or two to young Dan Biggar.
Toulon - Team News: Joe van Niekerk, Pierre Mignoni, Carl Hayman and Felipe Contepomi are all missing from the Toulon squad due to injury - a mortal blow for most teams, but Toulon are not most teams. George Smith and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe start in the back-row, while England wing Paul Sackey gets a chance to impress.
Ospreys - Player to Watch: James Hook returns to the starting line-up at inside-centre in the same week that he was linked with a move to Perpignan. He will want to lay a marker down for the Ospreys and also for Wales' November internationals.
Ospreys - Team News: Ireland international Tommy Bowe will make his 50th Ospreys appearance and starts on the wing, while Andrew Bishop shifts to outside-centre to accomodate Hook. Jonathan Thomas continues at No.8 with Wales skipper Ryan Jones continuing his comeback from injury on the bench.
Key Battle: It could well come down to Wilkinson v Biggar. Toulon have not been the most expansive side in this season's Top 14 and their better results have been underpinned by plenty of points from Wilkinson's boot.
Trivia: There will be a ding-dong battle in the try-scoring stakes this season, with Bowe two touchdowns behind Shane Williams at the top of the Ospreys' pile.
Stats: The Ospreys have a losing record against French sides in Europe - winning only 41% of their ties against Top 14 opposition.
Quote Unquote: "The pressure is in the league, in the Top 14. We are outsiders here in Europe, the new boys. We are excited, for sure, but we can relax." - Toulon boss Philippe Saint-Andre in relaxed mood while talking to The Daily Telegraph
"To be successful in the Heineken Cup you need a good team performance, not a series of individual performances. Reputations, and success, are built as a collective unit, and that is the message the players will take onto the pitch with them." - Ospreys director of coaching Scott Johnson
Prediction: The Ospreys have designs on taking the next step but they will struggle to overcome Toulon on home soil. A narrow win for the Mayol faithful to celebrate, and a bonus point for the visitors.
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