Toulon face the first major hurdle in their quest for a French-European double when they host Leicester at Stade FÃ©lix Mayol on Sunday.
Toulon face the first major hurdle in their quest for a French-European double when they host Leicester in Sunday's Heineken Cup quarter-final at Stade FÃ©lix Mayol.
The Top 14 league leaders' squad of “rock stars” (to use Tigers boss Richard Cockerill's words) have been given the favourites tag but are in for a fight against the two-time champions, who make their eleventh quarter-final appearance having come through the 'Pool of Death' ahead of Toulouse and the Ospreys.
Tigers have won six of their previous ten quarter-finals – going on to reach the final on five occasions – but the English giants have lost in all of their last six visits across the Channel. Toulon have met English opposition on four occasions in the tournament and maintain a 100 percent win rate so far.
Toulon, fresh from thumping Stade FranÃ§ais in Lille last week, bring some impressive stats into the knock-out phases including the most clean breaks in the tournament so far: 63
Delon Armitage is one of only two players to surpass 500 metres gained in the Heineken Cup this season. The full-back has carried for 514 metres to date while Jonny Wilkinson is the Top 14's leading points scorer.
Finalists in the Challenge Cup last year, RCT have the luxury of leaving big names such as Gethin Jenkins, Maxime Mermoz and Joe van Niekerk on their bench as they line up an all-international starting XV.
There are just two changes to the starting line-up that beat Stade FranÃ§ais with ex-All Black Rudi Wulf replacing David Smith on the right wing while former French international hooker Sebastien Bruno takes over from Jean charles Orioli.
Tigers will travel on the back of a massive win over arch-rivals Northampton away from home and safe in the knowledge they are on course for a home Premiership semi-final.
Cockerill retains the same line-up for a third successive week, with fly-half Toby Flood named as captain after leading the team to league wins away to Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints in the last fortnight.
“Toulon are a great side with a lot of depth in their squad, but we have very, very good players too who are certainly able to compete at this level and the sum of the parts in our squad is very good,” said Cockerill.
“We came out on top of a very tough pool to earn a place in the quarter-finals and now we have another tough challenge.
“We know we have to be very accurate in what we do and work hard for each other. Toulon have a very good record at home and we will treat them with respect, but we want to give it our best shot and enjoy the occasion too.”
Players to watch:
For Toulon: Take your pick! The Toulon side is not short on super stars but keep a close eye on Steffon Armitage, who many believe should be playing for England and on the short-list for the British and Irish Lions. Also keep an eye on Matt Giteau who has been thriving outside Jonny Wilkinson and has scored a lot of tries since arriving in France.
For Leicester Tigers: As was the case against Toulouse, Leicester will look to their set piece to set the platform with Geoff Parling and Dan Cole the kingpins at line-out an scrum time respectively. Both have been in top form for England and are pushing hard to get their names onto that Lions teamsheet.
Head-to-head: With both sides know for their pragmatic approach, the duel between former Newcastle team-mates Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson, especially at the kicking tee, could make or break this one. Wilko has become a living legend in Toulon and his temperament is beyond question. The same cannot always be said for his former protÃ©gÃ©. Of course the demolition derby between Mathieu Bastareaud and Manu Tuilagi is sure to entertain.
Prediction: It's tough to argue against Toulon's near-perfect record on home soil over the past two years. Tigers will run them close but might ultimately be short on firepower against European rugby's 'GalÃ¡cticos.' Toulon by seven.
Toulon: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 SÃ©bastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Chris Masoe, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Nick Kennedy, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Sebastien Bruno, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Gethin Jenkins, 18 Levan Chilachava, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Vincent Martin, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Nicolas Durand, 23 Joe van Niekerk.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Date: Sunday, April 7
Venue: Stade FÃ©lix Mayol
Kick-off: 17.30 local (15.30 GMT; 16.30 BST)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Leo Colgan (Ireland); Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)