Three-time winner of the Heineken Cup, Stade Toulouse will be seeking a fourth title against former French rival Biarritz Olympique, Saturday at the Stade de France.
AFP - Toulouse will be seeking an unprecedented fourth European Cup title when they take on fellow French club Biarritz at the Stade de France here on Saturday.
Toulouse have been the most consistent team in European rugby in the 15 years since the continent's showpiece tournament was launched, winning three times (1996, 2003, 2005) and twice being losing finalists (2004, 2008).
Opponents Biarritz, who failed to even make it to the Top 14 play-offs so patchy has their domestic form been, did make the 2006 European final when they were pipped by Munster.
This time around, the Basque club dispatched Munster in the semi-final while Toulouse saw off reigning champions Leinster to make it the first all-French final since Toulouse beat Stade Francais 18-12 after extra time five years ago.
Biarritz No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, the stand-out forward in the Six Nations as France coasted to a Grand Slam, was under no illusion of what to expect from Toulouse - a team he said mirrored the mighty All Blacks.
"They are a model of consistency," he said. "In terms of squad, structure and results Toulouse are certainly the No 1 club in France - and probably Europe as well.
"I compare them slightly to the All Blacks, especially when you see their three-quarter play and how fast they react on the counter attack. On paper they are the favourites, and they are a team that we don't often beat, but I believe we can beat them.
"And I am like most children - I always want what I don't have. It's so hard to get to a European Cup final and winning it would be so dear to me."
Current Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir was a Biarritz player back in 2006 - and was a 52nd minute replacement in the final - before joining Toulouse that summer.
"He knows us well enough to be wary and we won’t be expecting any favours from him during the 80 minutes," joked Harinordoquy.
Biarritz were dealt a hammer blow with the news that star centre Damien Traille had not recovered sufficently from an arm injury to make the match-day squad.
For Toulouse, influential playmaker Jean-Baptiste Elissalde is uncertain, but former All Black scrum-half Byron Kelleher is back in the hot seat after sitting out the club's 21-13 Top 14 semi-final defeat to Perpignan last week.
Kelleher's battle with Biarritz's Dimitri Yachvili, whose all-round kicking game is crucial for his side, could be decisive for the outcome of the game, with the sniping Kiwi hitting some peak form.
Toulouse have also been preparing their forwards for what promises to be an uncompromising battle between some of the hardest-hitting players in world rugby.
After last week conceding 21 points to Perpignan from scrum-related infringements, Toulouse lock Romain Millo-Chluski has promised a volte-face.
"(Against Perpigan) we didn't show our real side. Our pack must remember that," he said.
"Against Biarritz, who resemble Perpignan pack-wise, it will be interesting."
Forwards coach Yannick Bru, the former France hooker, was also wary of a Basque pack that dominated a strong Munster opposition in the semi-final.
"We will find ourselves up against a scrum which likes to dominate, very well prepared technically and blessed by a great character," he said.
Toulouse captain Dusautoir added: "We suffered against Perpignan but we'll focus on what didn't work and find the right answers."
Date created : 2010-05-21