Yachvili and Biarritz look to ruin Wilkinson's Amlin homecoming

 

The last time Jonny Wilkinson and Iain Balshaw appeared together on a rectangle of mud down Twickenham way, they were overshadowed by a swaggering newcomer by the name of Danny Cipriani as England put 33 points on Ireland and finished second in the 2008 Six Nations. The two red-rose oldsters will be back in town this evening for the Amlin Challenge Cup final between Biarritz and Toulon at the Stoop and while Wilkinson is being given the top-of-the-bill treatment, they could easily find themselves marginalised again.

For all Wilkinson's pulverising accuracy with the boot – he scores as heavily for Toulon as he once did for Newcastle – and Balshaw's air-cushioned raids from deep on behalf of the Basques, the key figure is likely to be Dimitri Yachvili, the Biarritz scrum-half. When Yachvili is absent, be it through injury or international commitments, Biarritz border on the hopeless. When he plays, they are as difficult to beat as any side in France. Suffice to say he is playing this evening.

Toulon are assured of a place in next season's Heineken Cup, having finished third in the Top 14. Biarritz are in the intriguing position of trying to find a way off the second-tier Challenge Cup roster by winning... the Challenge Cup. To that end, they are throwing the paintbox at this game: Yachvili is joined in the starting line-up by the majestic No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, the World Cup midfielder Damien Traille and the super-fast American wing Taku Ngwenya. Toulon are also at strength, with the Wallaby midfielder Matt Giteau alongside Wilkinson and two serious forwards, the All Black prop Carl Hayman and the Springbok No 8 Joe van Niekerk, in the pack.

Anglo-Saxon eyes will be trained on Wilkinson, 32, from the start. It was ever thus. Yet a player with a red-rose future ahead of him rather than behind him will be of equal interest. The flanker Steffon Armitage, who joined Toulon from London Irish this time last year, has proved a big hit on the Riviera. He was in the running for a place on the forthcoming England tour of South Africa and a big performance here will ensure he is discussed again ahead of this autumn's home internationals.

Leinster and Ulster spent the day preparing for tomorrow's main event: the first all-Irish Heineken Cup final, to be staged at the 82,000-seater stadium on the other side of the A316. Leinster, the holders, will start as firm favourites, but the men from Belfast quietly fancy their chances.

"We're motivated by jealousy, as much as anything else," said Ulster's Ireland wing, Andrew Trimble. "We're fed up with being labelled the third-best team in Ireland. We want to be better than Munster and better than Leinster."

Northampton have confirmed that Jim Mallinder, their director of rugby, will stay at Franklin's Gardens until 2015. Mallinder had been an early favourite to succeed Martin Johnson as England boss but ruled himself out shortly after Christmas. He will, however, be a strong contender after the next World Cup.

"Jim's signing underpins our aspirations for the future," said Leon Barwell, the Northampton chairman. "As we have seen so often in sports across the world, continuity of management is crucial in a club's long-term success. This is what Jim brings to us. You cannot overstate how important he has been to the rejuvenation of the team."

Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss