Lyon v Toulon - teams and predictions
CHALLENGE CUP FINAL PREVIEW: Winners of three successive European Cup finals, Toulon were once the dominant force in continental Rugby Union, boasting a team of galacticos bankrolled by the outspoken Mourad Boudjellal.
Boudjellal has since quit as President and the Mediterranean club has failed to hit the highs that saw the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau leading them to European triumphs in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Those Cup wins followed two losing Challenge Cup Final appearances, in 2010 and 2012.
Toulon’s third, and most recent, Challenge Cup Final in 2020 also ended in defeat when they went down 19-32 to Bristol.
Their fourth Challenge Cup Final appearance, in Marseille on Friday, sees them up against Top 14 rivals Lyon, who are making their European Final bow.
Toulon and France flank Charles Ollivon said the team would be taking the Final in its stride, as coach Franck Azema manages testing times in both Europe and the Top 14.
“For several weeks, everyone has been involved, assuming their responsibilities, and pulling the squad up,” said Ollivon, with Toulon having beaten Pau 37-20 in the domestic league last weekend and having to travel to and beat Racing 92 on June 6 to give themselves a chance of a place in the top six play-offs.
“We have had his European competition in the viewfinder, but we have not won anything yet.”
One of Lyon’s stand-out performers has been English lock Joel Kpoku, who only touched down in France at the end of 2021 from Saracens, the Premiership giants where he failed to nail down much game time.
It’s a cracker
Kpoku, handily a French speaker thanks to his Congolese parents, has thrived in his short time at Lyon and predicted a “cracker” as the French club go in search of their first European title.
“We’re not focusing on the history – it’s more about taking each game as it comes. We haven’t won anything yet. Thankfully, we’ve secured that spot in the final, but there’s still a journey to get that cup,” said the England under-20 international.
“Looking at Toulon, they’re on a bit of a good run. We know it’s going to be tough, especially in the forwards. They’ve got some electric backs too, so we’ve got to stop them from getting into the game.
“The set-piece is going to be the big one – that will set the tone for who comes out on top and where the game is going to be won.”
Kpoku could likely be lining up against Eben Etzebeth, the vastly experienced and World Cup-winning South Africa lock who has also hit a rich vein of form.
“A lot of people have told me that, but I can’t go into my shell,” he said.
“He’s achieved amazing things in his career, but on the day I need to concentrate on my own game and not focus on what is opposite me. Hopefully, I’ll perform well and we’ll come out on top.”
Lyon coach Pierre Mignoni, whose team have won all their matches in the competition this season, is in the unlikely position of coaching his squad against a team he not only played for but was also backs coach during their European Cup glory days.
If that wasn’t enough, he has also signed up to be director of rugby at Toulon next season working alongside current coach Azema.
Mignoni, however, insisted his focus was on “how to win, how to mobilise the guys, how to be accurate in the details.
“To be in the head of everyone so that they’re all at 100 percent, that’s the goal.”
Head to head
This will be the third meeting between Lyon and RC Toulon in the EPCR Challenge Cup, with Toulon winning both previous fixtures by an average of 13 points; this will be the seventh time that a Challenge Cup Final has been contested by two French sides.
Road to the Final
@rugby365com: Lyon by eight points
Lyon: 15 Toby Arnold, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Davit Niniashvili, 10 Leo Berdeu, 9 Baptiste Couilloud, 8 Jordan Taufua (captain), 7 Patrick Sobela, 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Joel Kpoku, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guillaume Marchand, 1 Sébastien Taofifenua.
Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Hamza Kaabèche, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Felix Lambey, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Colby Fainga’a, 23 Xavier Mignot.
Toulon: 15 Aymeric Luc, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Julien Heriteau, 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Gabin Villière, 10 Louis Carbonel, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Cornell Du Preez, 5 Brian Alainu’uese, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Beka Gigashvili, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Jean Baptiste Gros.
Replacements: 16 Anthony Etrillard, 17 Bruce Devaux, 18 Emerick Setiano, 19 Swan Rebbadj, 20 Mathieu Smaili, 21 Julien Blanc, 22 Jiuta Naqoli Wainiqolo, 23 Facundo Isa.
Date: Friday, May 27
Venue: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Ian Tempest (England)