Toulon Three-Timer In Store At Twickers
Clermont v Toulon
An epic European Champions Cup final await on Saturday as Clermont take on Toulon in what promises to be one of the best finals yet!
After losing their opening European fixture, Clermont sailed through their remaining matches, winning five in a row to top Pool 1, before thrashing Northampton and battling past Saracens to reach the final. They had been going well domestically, but have been overtaken by Toulon at the top of the Top14 table after three defeats in a row including a 31-10 defeat to lowly Castres last weekend.
Last year’s Heineken Cup winners Toulon found themselves in a tough qualifying Pool, but suffered only one defeat, en route to topping the section. They comfortably disposed of Wasps in the quarter-finals, but were pushed close by Leinster at the semi-final stage, prevailing thanks to an extra-time try from Brian Habana. They are also leading the way domestically, having won eight of their last ten in the Top 14.
Clermont prop Daniel Kotze has had a shoulder operation and is unavailable, as is flanker Viktor Kolelishvili who is suffering from a ruptured cruciate ligament. Back-row Fritz Lee suffered a hamstring injury in the victory over Northampton and is still doubtful, along with scrum-half Thierry Lacrampe, but Camille Lopez started the game against Castres and will start at fly-half on Saturday.
Centre Mathieu Bastareaud will return to the side after sitting out the game against La Rochelle and play in his fifth consecutive European final, along with second row Bakkies Botha who is due to retire at the end of this season, and British internationals Leigh Halfpenny and Delon Armitage who will make up a star-studded backs division that also includes Matt Giteau and Bryan Habana.
These two giants of French rugby meet regularly, but their most important game to date was in the final of the Heineken Cup two years ago at the Aviva Stadium, which Toulon edged 16-15 after a tense first half.
Their latest meeting came in the Top 14 at the end of November. Toulon dominated the first half to lead 17-8 at the interval but Clermont fought back and took the lead with an Aurelien Rougerie try on the hour mark, before a Nicholas Sanchez penalty and a David Smith try sealed the points for Toulon.
There could be an unusual atmosphere for this game as two French sides compete at a less-than-full Twickenham, but those who do go will be in for a treat as some of the world’s best players go head to head in what could be a titanic struggle.
Toulon are bidding to be the first side to lift the European Cup on three consecutive occasions, and the fact that they have hardly missed last year’s hero Jonny Wilkinson is an indication of their incredible strength in depth.
Clermont have the talent to win, but do they have the belief? They will battle hard against their domestic rivals, but I think their opponents will be too strong and too experienced. Back Toulon to cover a two point handicap at Evens.