Stars to Dazzle in the South of France.
The glamour tie of the round as Toulon’s ‘All Stars’ take on the ‘Six Nations champions‘, as Munster coach Rob Penney described Leinster last week.
Indeed, 17 of the 29 players used in Ireland’s Six Nations-winning campaign were Leinster players, while Toulon’s squad reads as a veritable who’s-who of some of the top names in world rugby over the past decade.
Together Toulon and Leinster have claimed four of the past five Heineken Cup titles and the victors here – with a home semi-final to come – will believe they can go all the way again.
To add to the occasion, two of the all-time greats of European rugby will come head to head – and indeed one or other will be playing their last ever match in this competition – with Jonny Wilkinson and Brian O’Driscoll both set to hang up their boots at the end of the campaign. What a fitting send-off ultimate victory would be for either of these two stars.
Although Toulon are relatively new to the Heineken Cup, having played just 22 games in Europe’s premier club tournament, they have never been beaten at fortress Felix Mayol.
Even without the vastly experienced second-row pairing of Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams, who are both missing this weekend, Toulon still possess the necessary grunt to wear down any side before unleashing their deadly backline which features, amongst a host of others, Springbok legend Bryan Habana.
But it is in midfield where the most intriguing battle of all awaits, where the likely Toulon pairing of Mathieu Basteraud and Matt Giteau will be up against Irish duo Gordon D’Arcy and O’Driscoll.
Leinster, too, have their forward match-winners with prop Cian Healy and captain Jamie Heaslip enjoying fine seasons, while their strength in depth in the front row could make all the difference as fatigue creeps in later on.
For all Toulon’s household names, they still rely heavily on the boot of Wilkinson and there is a suggestion their ageing stars have too many miles on the clock.
Expect Toulon to keep the scoreboard ticking over through their iconic out-half but Leinster are likely to counter as O’Driscoll goes in search of one last swansong as his long goodbye draws to a close. Leinster (+5.5) at 5/6 looks decent value.
The match kicks off tomorrow at 4.30pm