Key Clash Preview: RC Toulon v Biarritz

Date: 18th May 2012
Kickoff: 20:00
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Venue: The Stoop

Toulon:

Mourad Boudjellal hasn’t spent millions of euros for nothing. In fact, his heavy investment in Toulon’s squad has been spent for days like these. After losing in the 2010 final, Toulon’s spending has only got more intense. With a star studded squad featuring numerous internationals, they have the players to win tournament’s like these. The English tint to their squad has not gone unnoticed either, with Steffon Armitage, Jonny Wilkinson, Dean Schofield and Joe el Abd all involved tonight against Biarritz. Success has to come for Toulon sooner or later.

Biarritz:

With the old warhorse trio of Dimitri Yachvili, Damien Traille and Imanol Harinordoquy not getting any younger, Friday night is all about Biarritz making up for previous failures. The 2010 Heineken Cup final was a bitter defeat when the team were playing their best rugby for years. Now two years later their force has waned in the Top 14, but silverware is once more within their reach. They have the talent, of that there is no doubt, but the real questions lies on whether their pack can compete.

What to Expect:

High scores. Both sides are unafraid to play with width and bring their back three into contention as often as possible. When you have the likes of Zee Ngewnya and David Smith finishing off tries on the wings, you have valuable weapons, but it will be down to which side is kicking better on the day. Wilkinson and Yachvili are master tacticians when it comes to moving their packs around the field, not to mention the boots of Matt Giteau and Traille. Toulon appear to have the edge in the forwards, but nothing is certain.

Head to Head: Joe Van Niekerk & Imanol Harinordoquy

Once hailed as one of South Africa’s great talents, Van Niekerk’s Bok career may have stalled but the enormous number 8 has become part of Toulon’s fabric in recent seasons, bestowed with the honour of leading their star-studded side. His dynamism is exactly what Toulon require to get over the gain line. He’ll be up against a man at number 8 who has almost run out of accolades. Harinordoquy had a poor Six Nations campaign compared to his usual greatness, but no one takes more pride in playing for Biarritz than the Basque hero. If Biarritz are to win this up front, he will be intrinsic to their success.

Ones to Watch: Steffon Armitage & Zee Ngewnya

When Steffon Armitage left these shores to move to the Côte D’Azur last summer, few could blame him. London Irish were in transition and he appeared unlikely to make England’s World Cup squad after failing to impress in his debut Six Nations the year before. Toulon, however, has proved to be the making of him – so much so that despite the fact that is unable to play in England’s first test on the tour to South Africa due to it clashing with the Top 14 Final, people have been lamenting his absence from the England squad.

Ngwenya was the star of the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has continued to back up his impressive debut both with Biarritz and again with the USA. A special talent whose pace truly is remarkable, he has the ability – much like Shane Williams – to turn a game completely on its head. Cup finals were made for players such as him.

Prediction:

When Toulon made the ACC final in 2010, you got the impression that they weren’t quite ready for such immediate success. The deployment of a long-term plan has seen many stars be successful at the Stade Mayol, and many who have failed. Now however, Toulon feel like a team rather than a group of superstars. If they can surpress Yachvili and take all the points available through Wilkinson & Giteau, then they can celebrate a first European title. Toulon by 7

by Ben Coles