Tuesday 23 January 2018

Immortality beckons for Noves' Toulouse

Hugh Farrelly

TOULOUSE bid to push themselves clear of the European pack at the Stade de France this afternoon when they face down Biarritz in the Heineken Cup final.

The importance the club attaches to this competition was demonstrated by coach Guy Noves resting several key players for last week's Top 14 semi-final loss to Perpignan.

Winning their domestic title is all well and good, they have done so on 17 occasions, but Europe is the pathway to immortality and Toulouse have always recognised the value of this competition more than their club compatriots.

A victory this evening will land Noves his fourth Heineken Cup title and with two runners-up appearances to go with those trophies, it will leave Toulouse unchallenged as kings of European club rugby over the 15 years since the launch of the Heineken Cup.

Thus, Noves is leaving nothing in the locker this time and has selected a team so powerful, if it were allowed compete in a World Cup or Super 14, it would have a decent shot at both competitions.

There are simply no weaknesses in the side, from Clement Poitrenaud at full-back through to Leinster's bane Benoit Lecouls at tight-head prop. Wherever Biarritz are able to bring something potent to the table, Toulouse can match or better them.

The Basques may have Dimitri Yachvili at scrum-half, but Toulouse have Byron Kelleher. Biarritz boast Jerome Thion in the second row; Toulouse can line up the wonderful Patricio Albacete against him. In short, there is no player in the Biarritz line-up that you could unequivocally argue would be selected ahead of his Toulouse counterpart -- with the honourable exception of Imanol Harinordoquy.

The No 8 is once again laughing in the face of injury as he attempts to inspire an unlikely victory, but even his remarkable powers will not be enough unless something goes horribly wrong for Toulouse.

Biarritz have made some sensible changes to the side that accounted for Munster in the semi-final. The steadier hand of Julien Peyrelongue is at out-half with Karmichael Hunt switched to the centre, while Ayoola Erinle takes his butter fingers to the bench.

They have Fabien Barcella and Florian Faure to bring on to bolster their efforts, but then Toulouse can call on Daan Human, Louis Picamoles, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Cedric Heymans.

It all points one direction and, barring some unforeseen circumstance such as a red card, Toulouse should see off a brave Biarritz effort in relative comfort and deservedly don their European mantle.

Verdict: Toulouse

BIARRITZ -- I Balshaw; T Ngwenya, A Mignardi, K Hunt, JB Gobelet; J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; E Coetzee, B August, C Johnstone; J Thion, T Hall; M Lund, W Lauret, I Harinordoquy. Replacements: R Terrain, F Barcella, R Hugues, M Carizza, F Faure, V Courrent, P Bidabe, A Erinle.

TOULOUSE -- C Poitrenaud; V Clerc, F Fritz, Y Jauzion, M Medard; D Skrela, B Kelleher; JB Poux, W Servat, B Lecouls; R Millo-Chluski, P Albacete; J Bouilhou, T Dusautoir, S Sowerby. Replacements: AV Basualdo, D Human, C Johnston, Y Maestri, L Picamoles, JB Elissalde, Y David, C Heymans.

REF -- W Barnes (England).

Biarritz v Toulouse

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