Today is the third and final day of matches in the first round of the pool stage of the Heineken Cup. In what is arguably the pick of the day’s matches Glasgow Warriors travel to France to take on Toulon. These teams currently top the RabboDirect PRO12 and French Top 14 respectively. The game is due to kick off at 16.00 South African Time.
Glasgow may have been undefeated in the PRO12 this season but they face an uphill battle against the star studded reigning Heineken Cup champions in their own back yard. Toulon seem to have an endless source of money and have filled their squad with top players from many parts of the world. They boast a lock pairing in Bakkies Botha and Ali Williams that would make many an international coach happy to have in their team with further top players in the loose trio in the form of Juan Fernandez Lobbe, Joe van Niekerk and Chris Masoe while top Kiwi prop Carl Hayman finds himself on the bench behind the impressive Italian veteran Martin Castrogiovanni. An indictment of how good they are is the fact that former Springbok Juan Smith is not even initially in the match day squad but was included late on as a replacement.
The prescence of star players in the Toulon lineup is not limited to the pack with one of the top flyhalfs in world rugby Jonny Wilkinson captaining the team and lining up along midfield maestro Matt Giteau who wears the number twelve jersey today. Missing from the lineup is injured Springbok winger Bryan Habana but his replacement David Smith is no slouch either. They also have the luxury of having Rudi Wolf and Drew Mitchell on the bench.
This will be a game that Springbok coach Heinecke Meyer will want to watch with an eye on picking his squad for the end of year tours with four top former Springboks in the Toulon line-up. Lock Bakkies Botha and flanker Joe van Niekerk have already been mentioned and they are joined in the team by fellow countrymen Michael Claasens, at scrumhalf, and Danie Rossouw who is on the bench. It may be an ideal opportunity to see what these players are capable of and possibly include them in the touring squad, this will allow some of the regular Springboks from this season to remain at home and get much needed rest.
Glasgow will really need to play as a team unit but they do also have some stars in their team as well so needn’t fear Toulon, especially if they continue with their ferocious commitment on defence that has been evident so far this PRO12 season. In the front row they have British and Irish Lions prop Ryan Grant while a man who many felt was unlucky to miss out on Springbok caps Josh Strauss is at eighthman. It will be interesting to see how the younger brother of Scotland International lock Richie Gray gets on alongside skipper Al Kellock. The 19 year old Jonny Gray has been growing into his role as regular lock for the Warriors this season and uses his bulk, 1.98m tall and weight 119kg, to good effect as a strong ball carrier.
Gregor Townsend has selected Tim Swinson, who normally plays lock, at flank, in what must be an attempt to beef up the Glasgow pack against the super strong Toulon pack of forwards. This may have the effect of reducing the overall speed of the pack, although Swinson has played in the backrow in the past so won’t be completely unfamiliar with the position.
In the backline there is the exciting duo of Sean Maitland and Niko Matawalu who wouldn’t be out of place in any international team. The centre paring of Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett have had a solid season and young Bennett in particular has impressed. Henry Pyrgos has been preferred at scrumhalf to Matawalu and veteran star Chris Cusiter and one can only assume this is due to his kicking abilities. In addition to Pyrgos flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson can also take kicks to poles while Mark Bennett is a third option as a goal kicker, and Bennett’s abilities may come in handy for any long range penalties.
There are also some good options from the bench for Glasgow with Richie Vernon bound to come on and make an impact in the back row, while there is also speedster DTH van der Merwe who will probably come on at wing in Matawalu’s place at some point with Matawalu shifting to scrumhalf. Duncan Weir, who had been struggling with injury, started his first game of the season for Glasgow Warriors last weekend and is on the bench. By all accounts he had quite a good game, especially considering his lengthy lay-off.
It may be clutching at straws for Glasgow but there has been talk that Jonny Wilkinson has not always been his prodigious self with the boot this year, and they will hope he doesn’t find top form again today. Furthermore one wonders who will do the fetching for Toulon as Joe van Niekerk starts in the number 7 jersey, whereas Glasgow have Chris Fusaro who can certainly be seen as a specialist in this regard so this may be an area that Glasgow can try and exploit.
A bit of trivia – The Heineken Cup is known as the H Cup in France due to restrictions on alcohol advertising in that country.
|15. Delon Armitage, 14. JOSUA TUISOVA, 13. Maxime Mermoz, 12. Matthew Giteau, 11. David Smith, 10. Jonny Wilkinson (capt), 9. Michael Claassens, 1. EMMANUEL FELSINA,
|15. Sean Maitland, 14. Tommy Seymour, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Alex Dunbar, 11. Niko Matawalu, 10. Ruaridh Jackson, 9. Henry Pyrgos, 1. Ryan Grant, 2. Doug Hall, 3. Jon Welsh, 4. Jonny Gray, 5. Al Kellock (capt), 6. Tim Swinson, 7. Chris Fusaro, 8. Josh Strauss, 16. Pat MacArthur, 17. Moray Low, 18. Ed Kalman, 19. James Eddie, 20. Richie Vernon, 21. Duncan Weir, 22. Byron McGuigan, 23. DTH van der Merwe,|