Clermont Auvergne v Toulon: Heineken Cup final preview
A look ahead to Saturday's final at the Aviva Stadium
In a match-up worthy of the accolade ‘clash of the titans’, French giants Clermont Auvergne and Toulon will meet in the Heineken Cup final at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, with the Northern Hemisphere’s premier trophy on the line.
It is no secret of the spending power currently seen in France, which is reflected in this year's European finals - Stade Francais will take on Leinster on Friday in the Amlin Challenge Cup final to make it three out of the four finalists clubs that ply their trade in the Top 14.
However, there is a strong English contingent that will line up for Toulon, with Jonny Wilkinson, Nick Kennedy, Andrew Sheridan and Delon Armitage all named in their starting line-up. Former Wales full-back Lee Byrne will start for Clermont, while his international teammate Gethin Jenkins should feature off the Toulon bench at some point along with Delon's brother Steffon.
So with all the names, the money and the reputation of the two sides, who starts the match as favourite? The two recently met in the Top 14 and played out a 26-26 draw. Both have eliminated some big names on their run to the final; Clermont saw off Leinster in the group stages before beating fellow Irish side Munster in the semi-final, while Toulon defeated Saracens at Twickenham in the other semi-final to signal the dismantling of Sarries' season.
The fact that Clermont rested nearly their entire first XV for the draw with Toulon probably gives them a slight edge, but you cannot demonstrate how slight that is. Rule out this Toulon side at your peril, as they have shown with class names like Matt Giteau, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and the recent addition of Danie Rossouw, they can produce a moment of magic at anytime - and they usually do.
In points machine Wilkinson, they have one of the most prolific goal-kickers to have ever played the game. The former England No.10 missed out on selection for the British and Irish Lions, ruling himself out of being physically able to handle the complete tour, though it is thought that Wilkinson will meet up with the squad at some point.
Clermont have their own Mr Reliable though. Morgan Parra currently leads the Heineken Cup points tally with 108 points, ahead of Farrell and Wilkinson, and they will look to the scrum-half to keep the score board flowing just as much as Toulon will look to Wilkinson.
It promises to be a gruelling battle all over the field, highlighted by the personal battles in each position. Sheridan v Davit Zirakashvili, Bakkies Botha v Nathan Hines, Chris Masoe v Gerhard Vosloo, Wesley Fofana v Mathieu Bastareaud. The list could go on and on. And with the two sides likely to meet in the final should Toulon see of Toulouse and Clermont beat Castres, the encounter is likely to be a fiery one.
Clermont Auvergne: Lee Byrne; Sitiveni Sivivatu, Aurelien Rougerie, Wesley Fofana, Napolioni Nalaga; Brock James, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, Benjamin Kayser, Davit Zirakashvili; Jamie Cudmore, Nathan Hines; Julien Bonnaire, Gerhard Vosloo, Damien Chouly.
Replacements: Ti'i Paulo, Vincent Debaty, Clement Ric, Julien Pierre, Julien Bardy, Ludovic Radosavljevic, David Skrella, Regan King.
Toulon: Delon Armitage; Rudi Wulf, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Alexis Palisson; Jonny Wilkinson, Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Andrew Sheridan, Sebastien Bruno, Carl Hayman; Bakkies Botha, Nick Kennedy; Danie Rossouw, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Chris Masoe.
Replacements: Jean Charles Orioli, Gethin Jenkins, Davit Kubriashvili, Joe van Niekerk, Steffon Armitage, Maxime Mermoz, Frederic Michalak, Jocelino Suta.
TV: Coverage is Live Saturday on Sky Sports 1 at 5pm.
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