Heineken Cup preview: Semi-final is so much more than Owen Farrell versus Jonny Wilkinson

No 10s may be leading lights but Sunday’s match will be full of quality and intrigue

Saracens v Toulon (Sunday 3pm)

It could come down to marksmanship, but with Owen Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson perfectly capable of cancelling each other out from the kicking tee, it is more likely that the most talked-about Heineken Cup semi-final in years will be decided in the more abstract areas of the game: desire, resilience, collective identity, that kind of thing.

Saracens were once considered the most ambitious headhunters in European rugby – they hired Michael Lynagh, Philippe Sella and Francois Pienaar at the start of professional era; they mined the rich seam of talent in South Africa in laying the foundations for their current side – but Toulon surpassed them three years ago and are out-recruiting them still, by a distance. One of the visitors' English captures, the open-side flanker Steffon Armitage, disagrees violently with the view that he and his colleagues are merely "a bunch of rock-star mercenaries", but until they land a major title, the description will stick to them like glue.

Many thought Armitage would be one of the key figures at Twickenham tomorrow, but Bernard Laporte, the former France national coach who runs the show on the Cote d'Azur, has relegated him to the bench. The Springbok giant Danie Rossouw and the Argentine maestro Juan Fernandez Lobbe will start on the flanks, with the All Black forward Chris Masoe between them. It is not the worst, as back-row trios go. Equally intriguing is Laporte's choice in the engine room, where Bakkies Botha, pretty much as scary as ever, will be joined by the former London Irish lock Nick Kennedy. This selection has patently been driven by Steve Borthwick's presence in the Saracens pack. Borthwick remains the most effective line-out plotter around, so Kennedy, no slouch himself, is there purely to hold things together in this crucial department.

For all their lavishly financed raids on foreign rugby strongholds – only four of their starting line-up are French – there is no guarantee that Toulon will match Saracens' unity when the tough questions are asked. Heaven knows, they have the personnel to win the game and advance to next month's final in Dublin. What nobody knows is if they have the attitude.

C Auvergne v Munster (Saturday 5pm)

Talking of attitude, Munster have it in spades when it comes to this competition. Their quarter-final victory at Harlequins, driven primarily by the 2009 Lions captain Paul O'Connell and his allies in the back five of the pack, was a timely reminder of the Irish province's depth of feeling when it comes to the Heineken Cup.

They will need that emotional charge and more to prevail in southern France today against everyone's tip for the title, but one look in the eyes of O'Connell and his principal henchmen, most notably the ferociously competitive blind-side flanker Peter O'Mahony, will at least tell the favourites that they are in a game. Munster have made one change following their grand victory in London, the Lions back Keith Earls returning to the right wing.

Amlin Cup

Leinster v Biarritz (Saturday 2.30pm)

Right from the start of the season, Leinster were confident of playing knock-out rugby this weekend. Unfortunately for the reigning European champions, it is not in the competition that matters most. Even so, they are taking this second-tier semi in Dublin with all due seriousness: their main contenders for Lions selection – Rob Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll, Jonathan Sexton and the rest – are present and correct.

Can Biarritz conceivably win? It is a tall order. There again, the marvellous scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili won this title for them last year, against a Toulon side no one expected them to beat. And Yachvili plays.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower