Planet Rugby

Preview: Toulouse v Toulon

25th October 2013 14:04

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Toulon s scrum half Fred Michalak C speaks with Toulouse s fullback Clement Poitrenaud

Set to face his former mates: Fred Michalak

A much-changed Toulon squad will travel to Stade Ernest Wallon to face high-flying Toulouse on Saturday in a top-of-the table clash.

With both sides level with Montpellier at the summit of the Top 14 standings, the clash between France's most decorated club and the reigning European champions has the potential to be one of the biggest games of the year.

Even though Toulon are not sending their strongest team, the depth of the respective squads means there will be no shortage of star names.

Toulouse have won their last four homes games against RCT and following their epic win over Saracens in European competition last week, the hosts will start as favourites.

Toulon have been below-par on their travels this season, and were once again underwhelming last week, losing away to a Cardiff Blues side that had been comprehensively beaten by Exeter seven days earlier.

Toulon fly-half Frederic Michalak, who could well start his first Top 14 game of the season after returning from a shoulder injury he suffered on the France tour of New Zealand in the close season, believes that Toulouse have the better form at the moment.

While Michalak bemoaned Toulon taking matches for granted he added that Toulouse were on a "different planet."

"I don't know if this is the best moment to be playing Toulouse," said the 31-year-old veteran, who established his reputation at Toulouse.

"I hope that we prepare for this match with a little bit of fear in our heads because opposite us will be the best team in France at the moment.

"We cannot pretend that we are going to win at Toulouse, especially seeing how they are playing at the moment.

"They are just on another planet. I know the club, I know that in such moments, they are very very strong.

"In their victory over Saracens (17-16 in the European Cup last Friday) they didn't break even with a really strong team opposite them. It is a huge club, who want more all the time. They want to win all their matches. All the players have something to prove. They leave little room for error."

Toulouse's only blow of late has been the long-term injury suffered by former All Black fly-half Luke McAlister, but even with him due to miss four months they do not feel the need to replace him with a signing and look set to place their confidence instead in scrum-halves Jano Vermaak and Jean-Marc Doussain.

Louis Picamoles wins the start at number eight ahead of last week's Man of the Match against Saracens, Gillian Galan.

Former Sharks hooker Craig Burden is set to make his Toulon debut after being named in the extended squad but countryman Bryan Habana is not yet ready to play.

Ali Williams, Maxime Mermoz, Benjamin Noirot, Steffon Armitage, Joe Van Niekerk and Michael Claassens are amongst those set to be rested after coach Bernard Laporte admitted his team were "exhausted."

That means selections for Rudi Wulf at inside centre, Juan Smith at number eight and Drew Mitchell at full-back in an XV captained by Sebastian Tillous-Borde.

Results last season: Toulouse 32-9 Toulon; Toulon 24-9 Toulouse

The teams:

Toulouse: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Florian Fritz (c), 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Gregory Lamboley, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Romain Millo-Chluski, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Yohan Montes, 19 Yannick Nyanga, 20 Joe Tekori, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Clement Poitrenaud, 23 Gillian Galan.

Toulon: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Alexis Palisson, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Rudi Wulf, 11 David Smith, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Sebastian Tillous-Borde (c), 8 Juan Smith, 7 Pierrick Gunther, 6 Virgile Bruni, 5 Jocelino Suta, 4 Konstantin Mikautadze, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Andrew Sheridan.
Replacements: 16 Jean-Charles Orioli, 17 Florian Fresia, 18 Joe Van Niekerk, 19 Chris Masoe, 20 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 21 Delon Armitage, 22 Maxime Mermoz, 23 Carl Hayman.

Date: Saturday, October 26
Venue: Rugby Club Toulonnais
Kick-off: 14:55 local (12.55 GMT)
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz

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