By Alan Dymock
DUBLIN WILL be a certain shade of yellow or red come Saturday evening after two very familiar French foes do battle in the Heineken Cup final.
If Clermont Auvergne’s more outspoken players are to be believed, the drawn game between Clermont and Toulon in April was one that Toulon were lucky to keep a grip on, despite the fact that the Vulcans fielded a second-string.
This may well have been true. However, while the set from Toulon counted Jonny Wilkinson, The Armitages, Mathieu Bastareaud and Bakkies Botha among their ranks, a second XV from Clermont still included world class performers like Elvis Vermeulen, Julien Malzieu, Regan King and Julien Pierre.
In that instance, too, it must be made clear that the game was played out between two factions already assured of their place at the very top of the Top 14. This Saturday is a final. Europe’s grandest final. The Heineken Cup is the one everyone bursts themselves to win.
Clermont are understandably confident, with their rich pedigree and eight wins from eight in the Heineken. They are hunting down the Cup – something they have never done before – and all comers have been nonchalantly swatted aside whenever they have presented themselves in front of Les Jaunards.
Toulon are greedy, though.
Despite recent history, recent results or the fact that they are a warm smile away from being branded mercenary, the pack from France’s sunny south have proven big game players in their ranks and men who would happily bend rules if it meant they won a prize.
It is a chop-licking prospect. Everywhere you look there are impressive match-ups.
Napolioni Nalaga against Rudi Wulf is a head-to-head between two players that yearn to cut loose. Nathan Hines and Jamie Cudmore versus Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw is a ruck-time prospect with all the subtlety and grace of a sledgehammer hitting a landmine. Wilkinson against Brock James could be like chess with studs.
The most volatile and keenest battle on the Dublin turf this Saturday could well be in the scrum, though. Toulon rely on big ol’ boys while Clermont have enough scars and synergy to see them tramp through. Much depends on who elevates their level of performance, but keep an eye on Davit Zirakashvili butting up against Andrew Sheridan.
Most will expect this final written in French to conclude with Clermont joy. What it will come down to is whether Clermont score as they are expected to, or if Toulon can hold on and roll over the line at the last.
ASM Clermont Auvergne: Byrne; Sivivatu, Rougerie (c), Fofana, Nalaga; James, Parra; Domingo, Kayser, Zirakashvili, Cudmore, Hines, Bonnaire, Vosloo, Chouly
Subs: Paulo, Debaty, Ric, Pierre, Bardy, Radosavljevic, Skrela, King
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Toulon: D Armitage; Wulf, Bastareaud, Giteau, Palisson; Wilkinson (c), Tillous-Borde; Sheridan, Bruno, Hayman, Botha, Kennedy, Rossouw, Fernandez Lobbe, Masoe
Subs: Orioli, Jenkins, Kubriashvili, Van Niekerk, Armitage, Mermoz, Michalak, Suta