Laporte talks up Toulon chances
European Cup holders Toulon will start as the slight favourites in their semifinal on Sunday against Ireland's two-time champions Munster.
European Cup holders Toulon will start as the slight favourites in their semifinal on Sunday against Ireland's two-time champions Munster, the French club's head coach Bernard Laporte said.
The 49-year-old former France coach - who is serving a 16-week touchline ban for verbally abusing a referee - says that playing the match in nearby Marseille will give them the edge over the Irish province.
The winners of Sunday's game will play the victors in Saturday's first semifinal at Twickenham between English side Saracens and another French outfit Clermont, who Toulon beat in the final last year.
"All the Munster coaching staff were at our Top 14 game at Barcelona on Saturday [in which they beat Perpignan 46-31] and they have nothing but the European Cup in their heads," said Laporte.
"Their strength in the mauls is a redoubtable weapon. They are equally strong in the line-outs as well.
"They haven't reached this stage of the competition for nothing but then they have to say the same thing about us.
"We have a slight advantage in that we are playing at home, at the Velodrome.
"One can say that the match is 51-49 percent in our favour.
"Even if one recalls that last year we went away to Saracens [in England] and won."
Laporte, who twice guided France to the World Cup semifinals in 2003 and 2007, but on both occasions lost to bitter historical rivals England, said that his team were in better form and shape - their win over Perpignan took them top of the Top 14 table - than last year because there was more competition for places.
"This season we have a squad of 30 to 35 players competing for places in the line-ups for both competitions [Top 14 and European Cup]," said Laporte.
"However, one has to have a large body of players to select from, otherwise it is impossible to focus on two fronts.
"Also with regard to last season several players have made progress, and there is also more maturity in the squad.
"The most glaring example is that of [lock] Jocelino Suta. Last year he was satisfied to be second or third choice. Now he has assumed his responsibilities and behaves like a first choice. He has made a huge amount of progress."
Fortunately for Laporte, Suta is fit and firing on all cylinders as their two most experienced locks, World Cup winners Bakkies Botha (Springboks in 2007) and Ali Williams (All Blacks 2011), are injured and doubtful for the game.
However, there was better news with regard to English kicking legend Jonny Wilkinson, who has missed the last two games through injury.
"Jonny Wilkinson trained normally today and will be fit for Sunday," said Laporte.
"Concerning the two big name injured players Ali [Williams] and Bakkies [Botha] are improving and we hope to have them back, but we will see about that during the week with the medical staff.
"But the season doesn't finish on Sunday. There will be other games to come and we will need everyone.
"Suta, though, has been able to prove himself in their absence. However, the more people we have the less the worries."