LONDON, ENGLAND – It is now time for the big final that everyone has been waiting for. The inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup Final, has a familiar ring to it. That is because it sees two teams from the same league, the #Top14 battling out. In addition to that, these two sides, Toulon and Clermont, faced each other in the European Champions Cup’s predecessor, the Heineken Cup final in 2013. Lets take a look at the the teams, match info and match-up history.
Clermont: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Brock James, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Damien Chouly (c), 6 Julien Bonnaire, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Jamie Cudmore, 3 Davit Zirakashvili, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Clément Ric, 19 Julien Pierre, 20 Julien Bardy, 21 Ludovic Radosavljevic, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Aurélien Rougerie.
Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman (c), 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 21 Virgile Bruni, 22 Frédéric Michalak, 23 Rudi Wulf.
Date: Saturday, 2 May
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 17:00 local (GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Previous 8 Meetings:
2014: Toulon won 27-19 in Nice
2014: Clermont won 22-16 in Clermont
2013: Toulon won 25-19 in Nice
2013: Toulon won 16-15 in Dublin ( Heineken Cup )
2013: The sides drew 26-26 in Marseille
2012: Clermont won 24-21 in Clermont
2012: Toulon won 15-12 in Toulouse
2012: Clermont won 25-19 in Clermont
Now with all that said, how do these two sides actually match-up. Let’s take a look at the match-up by position
Front Row: It appears the edge goes to Clermont based on the fact that their entire front row is internationally capped, Zirakashvili for Georgia, Kayser and Debaty for France . As compared to Toulon, who only have legendary Kiwi tighthead Carl Hayman.
Second Row: Clermont is going old bull (Jamie Cudmore), young bull (Sébastien Vahaamahina) while Toulon have opted for their two old warhorses Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha.
Back Row: This is where the fight will be. All 6 players have been internationally capped. Toulon has former best player in Europe winner Steffon Armitage in their group, so a sligth edge could go to them but this looks very even.
Halfbacks: Both scrumhalves have played for France and are in the reckoning for a Rugby World Cup spot. Both the flyhalves are Australian players, though Matt Giteau has vastly more international experience as he has been cappend 70 times for Aus. Brock James hasn’t been capped by anyone, but he is a quality professional and an elite Top 14 flyhalf.
Centers: Toulon will look for some guile from Juan Martin Hernandez and anything but guile from Mathieu Bastareaud while Clermont counter with the power and pace of Wesley Fofana at 12 and more power with superb handling in Welsh international Johnathan Davies.
Back Three: The group of Habana, Mitchell and Halfpenny sounds like a very prestigious law firm. They are expensive and prestigious to be fair. You have an experienced finisher, a quality finisher who can cover fullback and one of the best full backs in the world. Clermont’s trio Nalaga, Nakaitaci and Abendanon don’t sound as law firm-ish but they provide two quality finishers and creative play-making fullback.
Front Row: Both sets have played well for their side all season but Clermont can call on former Les Blues international Thomas Domingo.
Second Row: Toulon will bring on their young bull Romain Taofifenua when the time is right, while Clermont will bring their old war horse Julien Pierre to add some starch to things.
Back Row: Clermont will call on the crafty grinder from Portugal Julien Bardy while Toulon will rely on the veteran leadership of Juan Fernandez Lobbe.
Halfbacks: Toulon’s Virgil Bruni has had a good season but Ludovic Radosavljevic has played better and pushed Parra all season.
Utility Back: Clermont have the luxury of former France International and club captain Aurélien Rougerie to call on, while Toulon will look towards New Zealand import Rudi Wolf.
And with all of that said and reviewed, here our Expert Panel’s Picks
James Harrington: As the Top 14 Expert, I pick an upset and a Clermont victory.
Jamie Loyd: Toulon, three in a row. They are just too good.
Nicholas Hall: Clermont, Toulon are getting a bit annoying.
Johnathan Wicklow Barberie: Toulon, Mourad Boudjellal is priceless in terms of comedy value so long may he and his club reign.
Declan Yeats: Toulon. I hate French rugby, the “Spivs” ruined the perfectly good H-Cup, so the only choice I have is Toulon because they are captained by a tighthead. Any team with a tighthead as captain, wins my support.
Junoir Blaber: Clermont because I hate Toulon.
That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Audrey Youn, Akweley Okine, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.
And as always, stay low and keep pumping those legs.