Wednesday 21 February 2018

Five talking points ahead of the Champions Cup final

Leigh Halfpenny
Leigh Halfpenny

Clermont Auvergne and Toulon will contest the European Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday. It is the fifth all-French final since European knockout rugby began 20 years ago, while Toulon are seeking an unprecedented hat-trick of European titles.

Here, Press Association Sport identifies five talking points heading into an eagerly-awaited encounter.


In a final between two teams that know each other so well - it is a repeat of the 2013 showpiece in Dublin, and they currently hold the French domestic league's top two places - small margins are likely to prove decisive. In Wales star Leigh Halfpenny, Toulon possess one of world rugby's most prolific match-winners. He has already scored 92 points in this season's tournament and his relentless goalkicking accuracy will punish Clermont if they give him chances.


Toulon flanker Steffon Armitage and Clermont full-back Nick Abendanon are in such high-class form that they would appear to be testing England's "exceptional circumstances" rule that applies to players being picked by head coach Stuart Lancaster if they ply their trade overseas. With the announcement of a World Cup training squad looming, both men seemingly have it all to gain at Twickenham on Saturday, or will Lancaster stand firm?


England's 2003 World Cup hero might have retired the best part of a year ago but his influence on Toulon remains. He might not be kicking goals from all parts these days but he has been in and around the Toulon camp this week as they bid for more European glory. And, after all, Wilkinson probably knows Twickenham better than anyone.


Showpiece finals are often accompanied by emotional farewells and Saturday's game will be the last time before retirement that three of world rugby's finest forwards grace Twickenham in a competitive game. Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams are all set to hang up their boots at the end of this season and Toulon will be planning a dream European send-off.


Clermont will never forget the day they were crowned French champions in 2010 - mainly because it had been so long in the making. Remarkably, Clermont have been French league runners-up on 10 occasions while they also lost on their one previous appearance in a top-flight European final, being beaten 16-15 by Toulon two years ago. They are too good a team to keep missing out, but Toulon will have other ideas.

Press Association

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