Preview: Toulon v Wasps

Date published: January 15 2016

Toulon are boosted by the return of Drew Mitchell to their side as they look to overcome an injury-hit Wasps at Stade Felix Mayol on Sunday.

The Australian comes in for fellow countryman James O’Connor at full-back in an otherwise unchanged backline for the home fixture.

Steffon Armitage returns to the line-up in place of Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe in the only change to the champions’ forward pack.

Meanwhile, co-captain Matt Mullan will skipper Wasps in the absence of James Haskell, who has been ill this week and therefore unable to rehab from a shoulder knock. Haskell is expected to be fit for next Saturday’s game against Leinster.

Sam Jones and Guy Thompson, who both impressed in last Sunday’s late win over Worcester, start in the back-row alongside George Smith. Nathan Hughes continues to work his way back to fitness from a calf injury.

Bradley Davies and James Gaskell form the second-row partnership, packing down behind Matt Mullan, Edd Shervington and Lorenzo Cittadini.

There is only one change in the backline, with Charles Piutau fit to return to the starting line-up, at full-back.

Speaking about two of Wasps’ England internationals who miss the trip, boss Dai Young said: “We are confident James Haskell will be back fit for next weekend. It’s a knock rather than a serious injury, but illness has prevented him from getting treatment on it this week.

“We are also comfortable that Joe Launchbury will have cleared all concussion protocols by the weekend, but he wouldn’t have been ready to play Toulon. Even if he has passed all protocols, he has still taken a couple of big bangs and it would be irresponsible to play him, so we won’t take that risk.”

Looking ahead to the challenge Wasps face in Toulon against the three-time champions, Young was well aware of the need for Wasps to reproduce their early European form, with a spot in the quarter-final hinging on the results of the next nine days.

“We certainly seem to have saved our best performances for Europe this year and it would be great to have another two big performances in these games. We also recognise we are playing against two wounded animals who will want to get pay back after the first leg results. I think Toulon left the Ricoh Arena pretty upset with their performance, so I’m sure they will want to put it right,” he said.

“You can’t look too far down the line, but if we can go to France and get a result, that would put us in a very strong position. However, looking at how tight the pool is, if Toulon were to get 5 points and us 0, it would put a lot of pressure on us going into the final match, so we need to at least get something out of the game. But we’re going there trying to win, we’re not going there to limit the damage.

“It will be tough, but this is what the staff and supporters want, us playing at the top table of European rugby and it certainly doesn’t get any bigger than Toulon. Then the week after it is Leinster at the Ricoh Arena, so we’ve got to play the two biggest teams in Europe over the last five or six seasons, in the space of a fortnight and that’s exciting.”

Form: Wasps have won only four of 12 pool stage fixtures against French teams away from home, though they’ll be looking for consecutive such victories after a 32-17 triumph against Castres in 2014. Against sides from all nations Wasps have won their last four away games in the pool stages of the Champions Cup, their best run since winning six on the spin between 1996 and 1999. Wasps scored four tries when they hosted Toulon earlier in this campaign, despite making fewer carries (93) and beating fewer defenders (15) than in any other game this season. Matt Mullan is yet to miss a tackle in the Champions Cup this season (43/43), no player has made more tackles without missing at least one so far.

The teams:

Toulon: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Eric Escande, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze, 4 Jocelino Suta, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Florian Fresia.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Mamuka Gorgodze, 20 Frederic Michalak, 21 Maxime Mermoz, 22 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 23 Thibault Lassale.

Wasps: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Ben Jacobs, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 George Smith, 6 Sam Jones, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Edd Shervington, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Rob Miller.

Date: Sunday, January 17
Venue: Stade Felix Mayol
Kick-off: 16:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jonathan Mason (Wales)