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Toulon eye Cardiff revenge

Fri, 19 Oct 2012 07:39
Joevanniekerk_toulon630 Jonny-wilkinson-looks2-630

Toulon face Cardiff Blues in the second round of the European Cup on Sunday a revamped side from the one that lost the Challenge Cup final to the Welsh region three seasons ago.

Only six players in the current Toulon squad, including English legend Jonny Wilkinson and ex-Springbok Joe van Niekerk, were present when the Mediterranean club went down 28-21 to the Blues in Marseille in May 2010.

Since then Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal, who made his fortune from the comic book industry, has invested heavily in the well-supported club, bringing in a raft of big names in a bid for Top 14 and European success.

"I remember it very well," said Jocelino Suta, Toulon's Vanuatu-born lock who has just received a call-up to the France squad ahead of the November internationals.

"We were in it in the first half but the game turner was Jonny's exit (with a back injury in the 47th minute).

"Without him, we didn't manage the kicking game well against a team that played all the balls and all kicks right though to the final whistle."

Aside from Suta, Wilkinson and Van Niekerk, the other Toulon players present were hooker Sebastien Bruno, Georgian prop Davit Kubriashvili and Argentina flank Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

Scrumhalf Pierre Mignoni has since hung up his boots, but now coaches Toulon's backline, and professed himself satisfied with the team's winning start to their European Cup campaign - a convincing 37-16 victory over southern neighbours Montpellier.

"It was very important to start this competition well, especially at home," Mignoni said, with the Blues going down 34-33 to Sale in Pool Six's other match.

"We know that if we want to qualify, you have to win almost all the matches. It's a good start, but we'll head to Cardiff very motivated in a bid to bag a second victory."

One player who will doubtless be happy to return home, at least temporarily, will be Wales prop Gethin Jenkins, who signed for Toulon from the Blues in off-season.

His decision to opt for a French club has put in danger his participation in the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia in June/July 2013.

Currently struggling to displace England's Andrew Sheridan from Toulon's front row, Jenkins has started five of the Lions' last six Test matches on the 2005 and 2009 tours.

But the versatile prop and Lions coach Warren Gatland have both been warned that Jenkins will not be able to join the Lions for the start of next summer's tour if the French club qualify for the Top 14 final on June 1.

Either way, the European Cup is the perfect stage for Jenkins to showcase his talents that have seen him win three Grand Slams with Wales.

"It's been a big change in terms of the lifestyle and culture and the rugby is completely different," Jenkins recently said of his move to Toulon.

"I've enjoyed it, obviously although I haven't played as many games as I'd have liked, but I'm getting used to the surroundings. In France I've been on the bench a few times so there are positives in that you get a certain amount of rest.

"I'm raring to go now and with the autumn internationals with Wales coming up I'm really looking forward to it."

Jenkins added that playing in the same team as the likes of Matt Giteau, Wilkinson, Springbok enforcer Bakkies Botha and behemoth former All Black prop Carl Heyman had taken some time to adjust to.

"I'm just getting used to the different environment at the moment. With some of those great players you learn something off them every day and, for me, it's just a case of getting more games under my belt and getting used to the style of rugby out in France."

AFP

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