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George Hook: Toulon’s star cast face test of character

It could come down to marksmanship, but with Owen Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson (right) perfectly capable of cancelling each other out from the kicking tee, it is more likely that this Heineken Cup semi-final will be decided in the more abstract areas of the game – desire, resilience and collective identity.

Saracens were once considered the most ambitious headhunters in European rugby – they hired Michael Lynagh, Philippe Sella and Francois Pienaar at the start of the professional era; they mined the rich seam of talent in South Africa in laying the foundations for their current side – but Toulon surpassed them three years ago and are still out-recruiting them.

One of the visitors' English captures, openside flanker Steffon Armitage, disagrees with the view that he and his colleagues are merely "a bunch of rock-star mercenaries," but until they land a major title, the description will stick.

Many thought Armitage would feature prominently at Twickenham tomorrow, but Toulon coach Bernard Laporte has relegated him to the bench. Springbok Danie Rossouw and Argentinian maestro Juan Fernandez Lobbe will start on the flanks, with the All Black forward Chris Masoe between them – not the worst of back-row trios.

Equally intriguing is Laporte's choice in the engine room, where Bakkies Botha will be joined by lock Nick Kennedy, a selection that has been driven by the effective Steve Borthwick's presence in the Saracens pack and at the line-out.

For all their lavishly financed raids on foreign rugby strongholds there is no guarantee that Toulon will match Saracens' unity when the tough questions are asked. Heaven knows, they have the personnel to win the game and advance to next month's final in Dublin. What nobody knows is if they have the attitude. (© Indepen-dent News Service)

Verdict: Toulon

Irish Independent