Heineken Cup Quarter Final Prediction: Toulon v Leicester Tigers

sheridan

What a game this could be. The Tigers, two time Heineken Cup winners and three time beaten finalists, travel to the south of France to play the expensively assembled galacticos of world rugby, Toulon. Both sides topped their group but neither looked completely comfortable in doing so. Toulon were comprehensively beaten by Montpellier, while the Tigers have already lost in France this season, to Toulouse, and also drew at the Ospreys. The visitors do bring some good form into the game, however, having trounced Midlands rivals the Saints 36-8 at Franklin’s Gardens last weekend – they have won their last three games, as well. Toulon also come into this game on the back of an impressive win, having beaten Stade Fran├žais 43-11 in Paris last weekend.

Toulon

Perusing the Toulon teamsheet is not a task Tigers fans will want to be undertaking too often prior to this game. Their line-up oozes quality, to the extent that the likes of Joe Van Niekerk, Gethin Jenkins, Jocelina Suta and Maxime Mermoz find themselves on the bench. Looking at the starting team, it is impossible to pick a weakness. Andrew Sheridan and Carl Heyman are pillars of power who bring vast amounts of experience; in the engine room Bakkies Botha’s brute aggression compliments Nick Kennedy’s line-out prowess beautifully, while the back-row sees Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe team up with England outcast Steffon Armitage and bruising Kiwi Chris Masoe. In the backs Jonny Wilkinson’s steady hand will guide his team to the right areas of the pitch, not to mention punishing any Tigers infringements. Matt Giteau has the guile and awareness to put the giant Mathieu Bastareaud where he needs to be, and outside him the diminutive Alexis Palisson has the pace and feet to create space where there is none.

Then there is the Stade Mayol factor. It is a claustrophobic, cauldron-like stadium, where the fans will back their team to the ends of the earth and beyond. They have lost just once there this season, to Racing Metro, so while the Tigers will know it is possible, they will also know they have to be at their absolute best.

Player to watch – Andrew Sheridan
Sheridan has been reborn in the south of France. After making a name for himself dominating Australian packs in various forms, he went off the boil somewhat. Much like the path trodden by Jonny Wilkinson before him, a move to France and his removal from the international reckoning has seem him blossom once again. Ironically, it could lead to a Lions call if Gatland decides his form warrants it – the Toulon coaches certainly seem to rate him higher than one of the frontrunners for the shirt, Gethin Jenkins, who starts again on the bench this weekend. A fierce scrummager and destructive ball carrier, Sheridan will be another fierce test of Dan Cole’s credentials.

Leicester Tigers

It’s been a largely typical campaign for the Tigers so far. Plodding along without ever really blowing anyone away (a couple of notable exceptions aside), they are heading into the business end of the season in relatively good shape. The most encouraging thing for Tigers fans is that they come into this game on the back of their best performance this season by a long chalk. Their demolition of the Saints had everything – pace, power and precision. It was a tough group that they climbed out of, sneaking by Toulouse 9-5 in the final pool game to secure a quarter final spot. Had the Toulouse kickers been even slightly on form that day, we might have been looking at a second all-French affair here. Still, the Tigers will relish being the underdogs, and will, behind close doors, back themselves to come away with a win.

They have named an unchanged line-up for the third weekend in a row. Toby Flood captains the side and looks back to his best having rediscovered his confidence, while in the forwards Tom Croft – looking back to his best – and Ed Slater are in great form with both ball in hand and in defence. In Marcos Ayerza they have one of the most intelligent, and best ball-playing props in the world.

Player to watch – Manu Tuilagi

Everyone knows Tuilagi’s strengths, and everyone knows Tuilagi’s weaknesses – or so we thought. Last weekend we saw the most rounded performance he has probably ever put in. His usual power was there in all its glory as he crashed over for two tries (the second of which few other players would have scored), but there was so much more that impressed about his game. He was composed in defence, tenacious enough at the breakdown to nick a couple of turnovers, and aware enough to offload out of the tackle. There was even a pass at one point! His match-up this weekend against Bastareaud is round two of a fight that never really got going in the Six Nations, and whoever succeeds in getting his team on the front foot more often could be crucial to the outcome.

Prediction

This is where bonus points and missed opportunities in the pool stages come back to haunt sides. Had the Tigers not let a win in Swansea against the Ospreys slip away in the final minute, they may have been at home. In that situation, with Toulon not great on the road and Welford Road in play, the Tigers would have to be favourites. As it is, they have to come to Stade Mayol, as intimidating a ground as exists. If they play as well as they did last weekend they stand a great chance of upsetting the odds. If they play even slightly below that level, however, against a star-studded Toulon line-up cheered on by their baying fans, it could be a step too far. What a cracking game is in store, though. Toulon by 3.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

16 thoughts on “Heineken Cup Quarter Final Prediction: Toulon v Leicester Tigers

  1. I don’t think the Bastareaud matchup will come to match – he’s been well below par for a long time now, Tuilagi should be well on top in the midfield.

    Still fancy Toulon though – they’ve come through to this the right way – losing Amlin final at home, losing HC games in recent years, they look bruised and ready to go all the way to me.

    I still think Sheridan is the most overrated player in world rugby though :-)

    1. Well they seem to know a thing or two about scrummaging over on the continent and he seems to be doing OK!

        1. Well, Mike Brown is keeping Wade out of the England wing spot. So Brown is a better wing than Wade? Sometimes coaches don’t do the right thing.

          As for the French liking Sheridan, no surprise. Classic French mountain man – big and strong and half tidy scrummager. Offers nothing anywhere else.

          1. have to disagree Brighty. Sheridan is a pretty decent scrummager, not just “half tidy”.

            also he tends to get his hands on the ball and get some good go-forward. he has always been pretty handy in defence too, often using his bulk to knock players back.

            Sheridan has rightly been keeping Gethin out of the starting team. After all, until about half way through the 6Ns, Gethin didnt even look like he should be starting for wales. Fortunately for Wales (and the lions) he seemed to regain form for the final few games.

            But Sheridan has been a pretty important part of a winning formula at Toulon, so it seems a bit silly to change that. If it ain’t broke!

  2. Although Tigers are hardly shabby in the set piece department just can’t see them getting the better of Toulon upfront. If it goes fast and loose then we’ll see Armitage popping up everywhere. Tigers need the game of their lives, sadly have to say Toulon by 12.

    1. irrelevant about “showing Lancaster what he is missing”

      England had a “no overseas” policy before armitage went over to france, he knew what the deal was.
      also he keeps spurting this bull about being willing to do “anything” to play for england. apparently moving back to england doesnt fall under the category of “anything” in steffon’s book.

      plain and simple, he WILL NOT play for england if he is in france. end of story. SL will not be paying any special attention to armitage, and nor should he.

  3. I have just seen ian Madigan in action against wasps in the amlin and the guy is class and his style of play could even suit the lions and also the fact that warren gatland was present at that game just under lines the runour around that madigan is going to be a lions wildcard .

    1. could be a good shout Johne. Plus madigan can play 10, 12 and 15 (possibly could do a job at 13 too). that kind of versatility can only be a positive on a lions tour.

  4. Well said Simo-it was Armitage that put himself out of England contention and if he wants it that bad he knows what to do.Going with Leicester on this one,mmm,by five or less.

    1. i have never been a huge fan of Easter, but credit to him for staying in england. when you hear him say that he will do anything to play for england, you tend to believe it, as he is doing all he can. unlike steffon.

      guys like armitage must grind on easter, after all he has been dropped due to his age, but someone like armitage wastes their chance by moving away.

      also i really dont know whether armitage is going to be fit enough to fit england’s style of play. robshaw and wood are the two fittest players in the squad and they hit ruck after ruck. armitage spends his time wanting to carry, often on the wing. england already have croft (who is faster, fitter and better in the lineout than steffon) so i dont see that there is much place for armitage. any question of an “out-and-out 7” should simply look to fraser, kvesic or wallace as the answer.

      1. Agree completely – either Armitage is a bit twp or just willfully rude as he seems to be oblivious during interviews that there is no “shop window” to put himself in for England selection until he gets himself back into an English club.

      2. I do have some sympathy with Armitage, he moved oversees when he:
        – He was surplus to requirements under the previous regime
        – Oversees players were still being selected (e.g. Johnny, Haskell, Palmer)
        – He wasn’t enjoying his rugby any more and needed a change.

        Personally I would have preferred Lancaster to cut him a bit of slack last summer with some sort of “We’ll give you a go, if you prove good enough to hold down an EPS slot you need to come back to play in England when your contract is up” type arrangement.

        His interviews come across like he’s waiting for the mountain to come to Muhammad though, which isn’t going to endear him to anyone unfortunately.

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