European Rugby Champions Cup Final Preview

Written by Square in the Air

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Twickenham will host the first ever European Champions Cup final between French pair Toulon and Clermont Auvergne tomorrow. With a heavy spread of international representation across the field, it promises to be a high-quality spectacle.

Toulon/Clermont is currently trading at 0-3 which gives an indication of just how tight the game is set to be. The favourites are going for their third consecutive European title (having triumphed over Clermont in 2013 and Saracens last year) and, if successful, will be the first team to notch up three in a row. Clermont came within 12 minutes of beating Toulon two years ago in Europe’s premier competition. More recently, they suffered at the hands of the red army 27-19 when the sides met in the Top 14. However, they managed to sweep aside Northampton 37-5 in this year’s Champions Cup quarter final before holding off a determined Saracens side a couple of weeks ago. Clermont have the strike runners to cause the reigning champions’ narrow defence all sorts of problems. Nick Abendanon has shredded opposition defences – he’s already gassed 30 defenders in the competition to date, 24 more than his opposite number Halfpenny.

The former Bath player has also made seven more clean breaks than the Welshman. However, Toulon head coach Bernard Laporte will be content with full back Halfpenny so long as he maintains his impeccable kicking. Halfpenny has slotted 87% of his 41 shots at goal in this tournament. Toulon boast the competition’s highest number of turnovers achieved so far (78) and the irrepressible 16st3lb Armitage is responsible for 27% of them. Having already notched up 115 points since his debut in 2011 the back-rower will no doubt cause havoc at the breakdown – especially to the likes of Julien Bonnaire and Julien Bardy who will be doing their upmost to keep the five-time England capped player quiet.

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