Preview: European Cup Final
Fri, 23 May 2014 06:20
The biggest of my career
Last year’s European Cup champions Toulon will attempt to defend their crown against Saracens in this year’s Final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Toulon claimed their place by overcoming Munster, 24-16.
Munster put up quite a fight but gave away too many penalties, which Jonny Wilkinson converted, six in all, along with a monster penalty kicked by Delon Armitage, before half-time.
Saracens managed to reach their first-ever European Cup Final, by thrashing Clermont, 46-6.
The English club completely dominated the French team, scoring six tries in all.
There was controversy in this match as well when Saracens were awarded a questionable penalty try by the referee, but that shouldn’t take away from a great win by Saracens.
The Final between Toulon and Saracens makes for quite a clash as both teams have topped the tables of their respective domestic tournaments and will each be contesting the final of those tournaments.
Toulon will be hoping to become the first French club to win both the Top14 and Heineken Cup trophies.
The last time Toulon faced Saracens was at the semi-final stages of last year’s tournament, with Toulon winning the game by 24-12. Jonny Wilkinson kicked seven penalties and a drop goal, to four penalties by Owen Farrell.
It doesn’t need to be stated but Saracens cannot afford to give away so many penalties in this year’s final if they are to have any chance of winning the match.
Wilkinson is acknowledged as one of the very best kickers in the world and has already amassed over 1,246 points (most of those points coming from kicks) for Toulon since joining the club in 2009.
Saracens will be the underdogs going into the match, considering Toulon’s greater record.
Alistair Hargreaves believes Saracens have a duty to ensure skipper Steve Borthwick ends his career as a European Cup winner, whether the former England captain is fit to face Toulon or not.
Borthwick is an injury doubt for Saturday's Millennium Stadium showdown with the defending champions after suffering a shoulder injury in the Premiership semi-final win over Harlequins.
The 34-year-old is retiring at the end of the season, but the injury is threatening to bring an early end to the career of a man who has served Saracens brilliantly since joining from Bath in 2008.
If he fails to pull through, South Africa international Hargreaves will be tasked with leading the Sarries lineout strategy in a game he acknowledges as being bigger than any of his four appearances for the Springboks.
"Saturday's game probably is the biggest of my career, but I'll prepare the same as always to make sure I'm ready," said Hargreaves.
"You try not to let the occasion overwhelm you, so our preparation is pretty consistent. Mentally that helps me not to build it up too much in my head.
"Hopefully Steve will recover in time, we all want him to be able to finish in style.
"We all owe a duty to Steve, he's such a massive part of this club and the revolution of this club. In the back of our minds we'd like to send him off on the right note."
2013: Toulon won 24-12: London (semi-final)
Prediction: Both of these teams have been in scintillating form both in this competition and their respective domestic tournaments, but just by looking at the teams on paper you have to feel Toulon have superior fire power with the likes of Bryan Habana, Jonny Wilkinson, Mathieu Bastareaud, and Matt Giteau. Expect the French team to hold on to defend their trophy by no more than 10 points.
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jonny Wilkinson (captain), 9 Sebastien Tillous Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Replacements: 16 Jean charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini , 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ali Williams, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Maxime Mermoz , 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Jocelino Suta.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.
Date: Saturday May, 24
Venue: Millennium Stadium
Kick-off: 17.00 (16.00 GMT)
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)
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