Posts Tagged ‘Toulon’

Saturday May 24, 12 PM Eastern – Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

The Heineken Cup will be replaced by the new European Rugby Champions Cup next season, so this match is the last hurrah for a great competition.

Steve Borthwick has recovered sufficiently from a chest injury to captain Saracens, which means an interesting storyline is maintained – he and Toulon captain Jonny Wilkinson, both of whom will retire at the end of the season, are also both former England captains. While Wilkinson is revered as an England legend, having kicked the drop goal that won the 2003 World Cup Final, Borthwick is associated with Martin Johnson’s ill-fated reign, a darker passage of English rugby history. Injuries permitting, Borthwick and Wilkinson will also play in their respective domestic finals next weekend, but first these proud warriors seek the ultimate accolade in European club rugby.

There will also be the subplot of the flyhalf battle: Wilkinson v Owen Farrell – master v apprentice. Who can forget last year’s Heineken Cup semifinal, when Farrell was slightly late charging down Wilkinson’s drop goal attempt? As the two lay on the ground, watching the ball flying inevitably through the posts, securing victory for Toulon, Wilkinson gave the younger man a consoling pat on the back.  Will this year be Farrell’s time?

The battle of the back rows will also be fascinating. Saracens’ is a key part of their vaunted “wolfpack” defense – Jacques Burger is an elite tackling machine, having made 27 and missed none in the semifinal thrashing of Clermont. (He also made 36 in a game against Exeter earlier this year.)  Toulon’s is led by Steffon Armitage, who has been in spectacular form both at the breakdown and with ball in hand. Armitage has not been considered for England selection since moving to France, and will be keen to show his skills against the incumbent England number 8, Billy Vunipola. Vunipola is known for his powerful running, but, still just 21 years old, continues to develop an impressive all-round game.  And all this is without mentioning the 3 other world-class players who will comprise the two back rows – Saracens’ Kelly Brown, and Toulon’s Juan Smith and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe – who have 188 international caps between them.

Toulon are slightly favored to repeat as champions, but I will go for Saracens by 3

Below, extended highlights from last year’s semifinal meeting between these two teams:

Another week, another last-minute win for Munster.

It was back to league competition this weekend, as the Heineken Cup is on hiatus until the second weekend of January. In the Pro 12, Scarlets traveled to Cork to face Munster, and came very close to a rare win at Thomond Park, a notoriously difficult stadium for away teams. Both sides were understrength, as Munster coach Rob Penney and his Scarlets counterpart Simon Easterby opted for squad rotation after consecutive weeks of intense European competition.

Bad conditions prevented the two sides from playing much running rugby, and they went into halftime tied 3-3. Scarlets took the lead a few minutes into the second half thanks to a converted John Barclay try, and Munster responded with two penalties to cut the Scarlets’ lead to 10-9. Scarlets went down to 14 men in the 73rd minute, and then had to play the last four minutes of the match with just 13 men after Michael Poole joined his teammate Rob Evans in the sin bin. As with last week, Munster found themselves in possession after the siren, knowing any mistake would mean defeat.  And once again, it was JJ Hanrahan, (this week playing flyhalf), in the center of the action.  Some good work from the Munster pack got them within a few meters of the Scarlets’ tryline, and then Hanrahan spotted Ronan O’Mahony – in acres of space thanks to Munster’s numerical advantage – and duly found him with a crossfield kick. It appeared that Munster and Ireland prop Dave Kilcoyne had knocked on in the build-up, but after consultation with the Television Match Official (TMO), referee Nigel Owens decided to award the try.

Meanwhile, in the English Premiership, Saracens made a huge statement with a dominant 49-10 victory over perennial contenders Leicester. Much-maligned England wing Chris Ashton scored two tries, while rising star Billy Vunipola also touched down for Saracens.

Finally, in the French Top 14, Toulon were rampant, defeating Montpellier 43-10. The result raised a few eyebrows. Toulon were just two points ahead of Montpellier in the league standings going into the match, but you wouldn’t have guessed it – such was the gulf in class between the two sides. Several of Toulon’s bevy of international stars got themselves on the scoresheet, with South African Juan Smith, Australian Drew Mitchell, and Englishman Steffon Armitage all scoring tries.

Below, O’Mahony’s winning try for Munster.