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PREVIEW: Young looking for second Toulon scalp

Wednesday 1st April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Reigning champions Toulon will need a bonus point victory to ensure they qualify as winners from pool five and secure a home quarter-final. - 22/01/2016 10:11

Reigning champions Toulon will need a bonus point victory to ensure they qualify as winners from pool five and secure a home quarter-final. - 22/01/2016 10:11

Can lightening strike twice? Can Wasps director of rugby Dai Young make it two wins over RC Toulon in their own back yard?

Five years ago Young masterminded a major upset at Stade Velodrome, Marseille, when his Cardiff Blues side beat the Jonny Wilkinson and Sonny Bill Williams inspired RC Toulon side in the Challenge Cup final. To make matters worse, the Blues manufactured a 28-21 victory in front of a record crowd of 48,990 mainly Toulon fans.

Young has never forgotten that day, describing it as “my most memorable day in rugby”, and neither has the RC Toulon president, Mourad Boudjellal. There may have been back-to-back European Cup titles, as well as a Top 14 crown last year, to ease the pain, but that defeat ran deep.

Back then the RC Toulon dream machine was just taking off. Now it is in full flow, a team of world stars seemingly delivering trophies almost at will.

This year the quest is to become the first team in history to win a hat-trick of European Cups. Can Young’s men spoil the party again?

“We know we’re going to be massive underdogs, and we have massive respect for Toulon, but we also know that we are going to rattle them at some stage during the game. For how long, we’re not sure, but we intend to make them work for what they want,” said Young.

Wasps have come a long way in the inaugural Champions Cup already, having had to beat Stade Francais Paris twice at the end of last season to qualify for the tournament in the first place. They were then written off after losing their opening two games, but battled back to clinch a ticket into the last eight with a draw against Leinster Rugby in their final fixture.

It was a bit more plain sailing for the champions, who won five of their six pool games, losing only to Leicester Tigers at Welford Road, and they will defend an unbeaten home record in the tournament of 11 games at the weekend.

For the RC Toulon skipper Carl Hayman the clock is counting down on his career before he hangs up his boots at the end of the season. The double-double – RC Toulon won both the European Cup and Top 14 last year – would be the most fitting way to finish, but the former All Black prop will be taking nothing for granted.

As last weekend’s defeat to Toulouse at a packed Stade Velodrome proved, even the best of teams can be vulnerable. Hayman’s side will have a wealth of experience on their side, not to mention a plethora of world stars both on the pitch and on the replacements bench, but they can be beaten.

Wasps won’t have their Fijian back row man Nathan Hughes in their pack following his three week suspension for last weekend’s red card in the 52-30 defeat at Northampton Saints. Given he has played in 24 of Wasps’ 30 games, and scored 10 tries, this season, it is easy to see how big a part of their side he has become.

But while Young will be sad not to have Hughes at his disposal, he will be able to pitch England back row man James Haskell back into action after a good RBS 6 Nations – and a week of rest. His battle with whoever pitches up in the RC Toulon back row will be worth the price of admission in its own right.

So, too, should be Christian Wade’s run in with Bryan Habana. Wade comes into the game on the back of a hat-trick at Franklin’s Gardens and ready to show off his speed against a man who once allegedly beat a Cheetah in a race!

The home side may have lost Nicolas Sanchez, now back home in Argentina having successfully guided the champions through the pool stages, but they are still spoilt for choice at No 10. Frederic Michalak played against Toulouse last weekend, Juan Martin Hernandez is also available having been registered for the knock-out stages and Matt Giteau will be fit to play some part in the game.

The fitness of Wales and Lions full back Leigh Halfpenny is still under review, but if he returns then Wasps will need to keep their noses clean and not give away too many penalties.
Match Facts

  • Toulon have won 10 of their 11 Champions Cup games against English opposition including all five home games.
  • Indeed, Toulon have won all 14 of their home Champions Cup matches, with all but two of those victories coming by margins that have reached double figures.
  • The French side lost their first ever Champions Cup knockout game, but have gone on to win all six since in a run that has seen them lift back to back trophies.
  • However, Wasps have also won their last six knockout games in the tournament as they have gone on to win the trophy on the last two occasions in which they have reached the quarter finals.
  • Wasps’ Nathan Hughes has gained 290 metres so far, more than any other forward in the tournament. He has also beaten 18 defenders , only seven other players have managed more.
  • Toulon have made more carries and gained more metres than any other team in the Champions cup this season, an average of 129 carries and 472 metres.
  • All three of Toulon’s quarter-finals have been won by the side with home advantage (W2 L1).
  • Defeat of Castres Olympique in December 2014 ended a run of three straight Champions Cup defeats in France for the side that recently relocated to Coventry.
  • Though they have won just two of their last eight away matches in France, Wasps have kept that losing margin to seven or fewer points on five occasions and just 10 in the other.
  • Wasps are undefeated in four matches, their best run of form in this tournament since winning nine on the spin between December 2006 and November 2007, a run which included them lifting the trophy.

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REPORT: Champions Toulon march on

Sunday 5th April 2015

12:00 am (GMT)

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Le double tenant du titre est toujours en course pour un triplé inédit en trois ans

Le double tenant du titre est toujours en course pour un triplé inédit en trois ans

Toulon will continue their defence of European club rugby’s premier crown in a Marseille semi-final showdown with Leinster after beating Wasps 32-18 in front of a typically raucous Stade Felix Mayol crowd.

The star-studded French club,  bidding to become the first team to win three successive European Cup titles, had to survive a battling Wasps second half comeback before moving a step closer to another showpiece final.
It took 22 points from the boot of returning hero Frederic Michalak to steer the French champions into the last four, the international outside half only just registered for the tournament after recovering from injury.
With Leigh Halfpenny ruled out and Matt Giteau returning to the bench, Toulon were looking for someone to kick their goals and he landed six penalties and two conversions.
That punished Wasps for their ill discipline, especially in the first half when five Michalak penalties and a conversion of Matthew Bastareaud’s fifth minute try gave the home side’s a commanding22-6 interval lead.
Wasps coach Dai Young claimed after the game his side had “shown too much respect to Toulon in the first half,” but it was a different story after the break.
England hopefuls Joe Simpson and Elliot Daly got the Wasps backline moving and the visitors managed to outscore Toulon 2-1 in ties and 12-10 on points in the second period.
Both tries went to Tongan wing Willie Helu and replacement Andy Goode converted one of them to bring Wasps back to within a score with eight minutes to go.
At that stage anything was possible and livewire Simpson almost grabbed a third sensational score.
But Toulon kept their composure, as befits the reigning champions of France and Europe, and a corner flop over by Ali Williams made the game safe with four minutes to go and ensured that clash with former triple champions Leinster at the Stade Velodrome.

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