Glasgow Warriors v Toulon: Five key head-to-heads to watch in the Challenge Cup final

Jared Wright
Five key head to heads to keen an eye on during the Challenge Cup final between the Glasgow Warriors and Toulon at the Aviva Stadium.

A new name will be etched onto the Challenge Cup trophy on Friday evening when Glasgow Warriors and Toulon clash at the Aviva Stadium.

Ahead of the mouth-watering showdown in Dublin, we discuss the main head-to-head battles. 

Zander Fagerson v Dany Priso

It all starts up front. While both sides are jampacked with exciting backs that will undoubtedly put on a show at the Aviva Stadium, the battle in the front-row is just as important.

The two sides boast identical scrum success rates of 91.71 per cent in the Challenge Cup, but where Toulon do edge ahead is in their ability to win penalties. In fact, they have won more than any other side in the competition (25), while Glasgow averages around three penalties conceded per game at the set-piece.

Zoning in on the players highlighted, and we get a tussle between two Test-hardened front-rowers who are astute scrummagers. While Priso is on the fringe of the French squad, he continues to churn out solid performances for Toulon. In the Challenge Cup this season, he has conceded just three penalties in six games at the scrum, while Fagerson has leaked two across his two games.

Glasgow‘s Simon Berghan (six) and Jamie Bhatti (five) are in the top two for scrum penalties conceded, so it will be vital that Fagerson sets a tone for the match while Priso and Beka Gigashvili look to do the same for Toulon. 

Jack Dempsey v Sergio Parisse

Parisse hangs up his boots at the end of the season and the clash at the Aviva looks to be the last opportunity for him to add to his trophy cabinet.

The Azzurri legend won two National Championship of Excellence titles with Benetton as well as a Coppa Italia before claiming two Top 14 titles and a Challenge Cup with Stade Francais. But he is yet to win any silverware with Toulon, and Friday’s game provides the ideal opportunity to guide his side to their maiden title in the tournament. 

Standing in his way is the powerhouse Glasgow Warriors number eight Dempsey, who has been nothing less than outstanding for the club since joining from the Waratahs. Dempsey is yet to win any silverware at club level and will be just as eager to get his hands on the title.

Both players had outstanding semi-final performances on attack, with Dempsey making more carries than any other player (18) and also beating a round-high of nine defenders. As for Parisse, he was instrumental in the win, setting up a try with a deft kick.

The pair both lead the way for carries for their teams in the tournament, while Dempsey’s 49 tackles is the second-best Glasgow tally and Parisse is Toulon’s busiest lineout jumper with 27 wins.

Domingo Miotti v Dan Biggar 

Los Pumas pivot Miotti comes into the starting line-up after Tom Jordan’s red card in the semi-final led to his subsequent ban for this encounter. He now faces the challenge of guiding Glasgow in their first-ever European final and doing it against the Wales and Lions veteran Biggar.

Biggar has quickly cemented himself in the Toulon starting side, with his tactical nous and brilliant kicking game being a highlight of his recent form. With the box office talents outside of him, Biggar simply performs as the orchestra’s conductor to set the tone and speed of their attack.

It will be a massive task for Miotti on a tactical front but the Argentine has stepped up when required and is generally quite accurate from the tee, which will serve him well.

With all the talents at their disposal, the playmaker that is most successful in utilising their attacking weapons will surely end the match on the right end of the result.

Sione Tuipulotu v Duncan Paia’aua

Two in-form centres with similar games face off in the number 12 jumpers, looking to create and take any opportunities that come their way.

With a fantastic understanding of their respective outside centre’s games and abilities, Tuipulotu and Paia’aua have played pivotal roles in their runs to the competition’s final and throughout their domestic seasons.

Paia’aua crossed the whitewash in the semi-final victory over Lyon, adding to his seven tries and three assists in the Top 14. The Samoan international has been a chief creator on attack for Toulon. With the elusive Waisea Nayacalevu outside of him, the French side have caused all kinds of havoc for opposing defences.

Tuipulotu has been far less prolific in terms of tries scored and assisted for Glasgow, but his value to the side is by no means lessened by that. The centre offers a fantastic mix of power and pace in his carrying game that makes him a threat each time he touches the ball while his passing ability is even more impressive. Tuipulotu putting a Huw Jones, or any teammate for that matter, through a gap has been a regular sight for Glasgow and Scotland fans this season and one they hope to see more of in their final game.

Ollie Smith v Cheslin Kolbe 

At 29, Kolbe has far more finals experience than Glasgow youngster Smith and the Toulon full-back will look to make that experience count on Friday evening.

The mark of a great player is their ability to step up to the mark when it matters most, and Kolbe certainly has a knack for doing precisely that. He scored a crucial try in the Rugby World Cup final for the Springboks and crossed the whitewash in the crunch third British and Irish Lions test. For Toulouse, he slotted a crucial drop goal in the Top 14 final against La Rochelle in 2021. You can be sure that he will be out to make a similar impact at the Aviva Stadium.

While the likes of Tuipulotu, Jones, and Kyle Steyn have been squarely in the spotlight this season, Smith has been a brilliant supporting act and is actually one of Glasgow’s best-attacking weapons. He tops the metres gained for the side and has beaten more defenders than any other Glasgow back.

READ MORE: Glasgow Warriors v Toulon: Challenge Cup final preview as Scottish side set to edge French giants in Dublin