In sharp contrast to this time last year, Toulouse, the defending champions are given little or chance of retaining their title as they face up to Wasps in today’s final.
In sharp contrast to this time last year, Toulouse, the defending champions are given little or chance of retaining their title as they face up to London Wasps in today’s final. All the commentators predict a Wasps victory with Irish Times rugby correspondent Gerry Thornley opining in his match preview that in fact, “Wasps will actually win this match quite easily.”
The reasoning behind the optimism of a Wasp’s victory is based on home adavantage; the physicality of the English side; their in-your-face-defence and the belief that they are the best thing since sliced bread to emerge from the Premiership since Leicester were at the dough stage. And there is also the undeniable presence in their side of some of the sharpest backs in the business plus the guile of scrum-half Rob Howley.
After the bruising encounter with Munster in the semi final Wasps went through a lean spell but got back on track with the demolition job done on Northampton while the chink in the Toulouse armour appeared last week when they were beaten at home, 24-18 by Stade Francais – their first home defeat in three years.
Whatever about that defeat, Toulouse have always looked a formidable unit at home but less so away. Even in last year’s final in the relatively friendly surrounds of Lansdowne Road they looked an ordinary enough side. So how are they going to feel playing in front their least favourite race, in perhaps their least favourite ground in the world.
To that end the presence in the side of Leixlip man Trevor Brennan could be crucial to their hopes. Brennan will revel in the conditions particularly the partisanship that will pour from the stands and he in fact – rather than captian Fabien Pelous may be the forward that the French will look to for inspiration and as a rallying point.
Another Irishman will play a crucial role in the outcome of this game – referee Alain Rolland. If this game is refereed the way the Lansdowne Road semi-final was, then Gerry Thornley will be proved correct – Wasps will win quite handily.
However, if Rolland refuses to tolerate the nonsense that was allowed in that game and if he works in tandem with his Irish touch-judges in implenting the mid-field off-side rule then this will be a close game.
It might also be a classic encounter with the outcome in doubt right up to the final whistle.
London Wasps: M van Gisbergen; J Lewsey, F Waters, S Abbott, T Voyce; A King, R Howley; T Payne, T Leota, W Green, S Shaw, R Birkett, J Worsley, L Dallaglio (capt), P Volley.
Replacements: H Nwume, M Lock, B Gotting, M Purdy, P Richards, M Denney, A Erinle.
Toulouse: C Poitrenaud; E Ntamack, Y Jauzion, C Desbrosse, C Heymans; Y Delaigue, F Michalak; P Collazo, W Servat, J-B Poux, F Pelous (capt), T Brennan, F Maka, J Bouilhou, C Labit.
Replacements: Y Bru, J Fiorini, R Millochlusky, D Gerard, I Maka, J-B Elissalde, V Clerc.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).