Preview: Stade Francais v Toulon

Date published: June 4 2015

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'Jamais deux sans trois' goes the expression but can Stade Français win three in a row against Toulon this season?

The Parisians have already managed an unprecedented hat-trick against Racing-Métro with their win in the barrage, but knocking over the triple European champions and Bouclier de Brennus holders for a third time is another challenge entirely.

Stade stunned the Stade Félix Mayol in September when they won 28-24, before doing the same again back at Jean Bouin just after Christmas with a 30-6 success.

So the question is, how did they do it? And can they repeat the trick?

Looking at the win at Mayol, one key factor was Toulon's struggles from the kicking tee with Delon Armitage, James O'Connor and Eric Escande all misfiring.

That allowed Stade Français to stay in touch, and thanks to two midfield breaks from their centres Jonathan Danty and Waisea that led to tries, as well as a fine all-round display from Jules Plisson, they were able to shock the champions.

While it was an impressive display, the return of Leigh Halfpenny should change things somewhat, at least when it comes to goal-kicking, but the Welshman was there for the loss in Paris.

That game wasn't as one-sided as the final scoreline suggested, but Stade used their powerful scrum and watertight defence to frustrate Toulon, before their counter-attacking style paid off with two late tries to seal the win.

The scrum will again be a key component in this game, and given how they humiliated Racing-Métro in that sector last week, Stade will fancy their chances of getting the upper hand once more.

On one side Heinke van der Merwe, undoubtedly the best scrummaging loosehead in the competition, will look to give Carl Hayman a tough time in potentially his final game, while Rabah Slimani will face fellow France World Cup squad member Xavier Chiocci.

The Toulon loosehead is in fine form, but depending on the refereeing can sometimes get into trouble for failing to stay square. It's certainly an area Stade can get the edge.

The other area where Stade really caused problems was with their counter-attacking game, with Plisson particularly impressive in both games.

The French fly-half won't be available this time around because of a shoulder injury, so in his place will come Morné Steyn. While the Springbok has been back to his best in recent weeks, he changes the way Stade play, and they've had to resort to a more traditional game plan.

It can still work, particularly with their powerful pack, but if Stade don't get the upper hand in the scrum, there's a danger they might be a little less creative out wide.

From a Toulon perspective, the win over Clermont in the Champions Cup Final was proof once again that when it comes to the big stage, they can produce the big performances, and you can be sure the likes of Hayman, Ali Williams and Bakkies Botha all want to go out with one last trophy at the Stade de France next week.

The potential absence of Matt Giteau is more concerning though, especially with Frédéric Michalak already ruled out. While Juan Martin Hernandez is no slouch, his back-up at fly-half would be either 21-year-old UJ Seuteni, who has just one start to his name, or scrum-half Eric Escande.

Ones to watch: Heyneke Meyer has talked about picking South Africans overseas for his World Cup squad, but Heinke van der Merwe doesn't seem to be on his radar. It's a shame because the former Lions loosehead is outstanding both in the loose and especially in the scrum. His battle with Carl Hayman could go a long way to deciding this game.

For Toulon, Mathieu Bastareaud ended his final game against Stade in tears after Toulon went down 30-6. The French centre revealed that he felt like a zombie and had nothing left to give in a brutally honest but worrying post-match interview. He appears to have turned things around in the second half of the season and will be keen to get the better of his successor in the Stade midfield, Jonathan Danty.

Prediction: Stade have shown enough this season that they should be taken very seriously in this game and they have the sort of game that can trouble Toulon. They do however lack the experience on the big stage as a group, and you feel that might just cost them in the end against this Toulon side. Toulon by 3!

The teams:

Stade Français: tbc

Toulon: tbc

Date: Friday, 5 June
Venue: Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux
Kick-off: 20:45 local (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal
Assistant Referees: Cedric Marchat, Pascal Pechambert

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