Ferocity of veteran pack gives Toulon an advantage which Wilkinson will drive homee
What makes this Heineken Cup semi-final so intriguing is Saracens will seek to match might with might
Saracens’ Owen Farrell impressed for England in the Six Nations, but the petulance he also demonstrated at times could be his undoing against Jonny Wilkinson and co. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire.
The bookmakers are having none of this match. Scratch being the handicap bet, which is no handicap at all. Maybe they see age as a justifiable leveller.
Certainly, a few years ago this Toulon team would be considered the best club or country XV ever pulled together.
Their playing roster is astonishing. Wilkinson. Bastareaud. Giteau. And that’s before we get to the menacing veterans up front: Bakkies Botha. Carl Hayman. Andrew Sheridan. Danie Roussouw. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe.
Eight different countries are represented, with three World Cup winning medals among other sparkling jewellery. But so many of them are on the wrong side of 30, they will definitely tire in the face of Saracens’ South African juggernaut.
It’s the ferocity of Toulon’s pack that should allow them storm Twickenham tomorrow. They overpowered Leicester in the quarter-final.
And then there’s Jonny. The man who captured the William Webb Ellis trophy 10 years ago said he expects to watch the Lions tour of Australia from his couch but this is the sort of feral environment Warren Gatland needs to see some potential Lions perform in.
Owen Farrell excelled in the Six Nations but the petulance of youth betrayed itself as well. If that happens again, Toulon will win because Jonny won’t blink.
What makes this such a mouth-watering contest is Saracens will seek to match might with might. The South African rugby player knows no other way. Alistair Hargreaves, Ernst Joubert, Matt Stevens and even Schalk Brits are not household names in the land of their birth, but they will be if they manage to fell Botha.
Steve Borthwick’s excellent lineout should provide a sufficient platform to get the maul motoring. That’s what destroyed Ulster in the quarter-final. Ulster also learned to their detriment that you don’t carry directly at Saracens gang tacklers. Not unless you are Toulon.
It could be the most brutal game of rugby the world will witness until the first Lions Test at Suncorp on June 22nd.
Wilkinson to guide Toulonnais to victory and perhaps force Gatland to alter his plans.
SARACENS : A Goode; C Ashton, J Tomkins, B Barritt, D Strettle; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth; M Vunipola, S Brits, M Stevens; S Borthwick (capt), A Hargreaves; J Wray, K Brown, E Joubert. Replacements: J Smit, R Gill, C Nieto, M Botha, G Kruis, N de Kock, C Hodgson, C Wyles.
TOULON: D Armitage; R Wulf, M Bastareaud, M Giteau, A Palisson; J Wilkinson (capt), S Tillous-Borde; A Sheridan, S Bruno, C Hayman; B Botha, N Kennedy; D Rossouw, J Martin Fernandez Lobbe, C Masoe. Replacements : J Charles Orioli, G Jenkins, D Kubriashvili, J Van Niekerk, S Armitage, M Mermoz, F Michalak, J Suta.
Referee: A Rolland (Ire).
Handicap betting: Scratch, evens.