Match Preview: RC Toulon vs. Ulster Rugby

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Match Preview: RC Toulon vs. Ulster Rugby

Post by ADM » Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:18 pm

[tag=image] ... Toulon.png[/tag][tag=content]It’s been a long time since we’ve entered January’s European games with nothing to play for.

This time last season we were preparing to thrash an understrength Montpellier side (which we didn’t do) and then head to Leicester for a winner-takes-all blockbuster game that would define our season should we win (which we did do). This year it is a completely different story as we are travelling to the sunny south of France and then welcoming the Tigers back to the Kingspan in the hope that we simply don’t ship any more injuries rather than look at potential progression.

It signals what a fall from grace we have had since a year ago. Last year we were the best side in the pool stages, going six from six, winning in both the Yves du Manoir and Welford Road and hoping we could be the first side in Heineken Cup history to win every game on our way to glory. Fast forward to the present day and we are rock bottom of our pool with just a solitary victory to our name, and even in the Pro12 we find ourselves outside the top four with more than half the season played.

Performances have not been good, no point in sugar coating it. Last week was nothing short of an atrocity – managing to score three tries and control the game in the first 26 minutes, then not score again for the next 54 is below par. Why we didn’t take all five points back to Belfast is something for the coaches to sort out, but it needs addressed fast otherwise we will be well and truly humiliated in the Felix Mayol tomorrow.

In fact, that may happen anyway. With Tommy Bowe and Rory Best rested by Joe Schmidt, and Ruan Pienaar quite rightly given the afternoon off by Neil Doak, we’ve already been shorn short of our three best available players and things are not looking too positive. Unless the lads can manage to produce the performance of the season then I fear there is very little to stop Globo Gym in their tracks.

Even a flu virus which has plagued Toulon all week will probably provide very little in the way of slowing them down. It’s just impossible to find a weakness in their squad with so many top names there and, even though their Top14 form has maybe hit something of a roadblock, it’s impossible for me to envisage us storming the Mayol and returning with four points.

It is a dead rubber match, we all know that, and that makes it even harder for me to write about. How do you preview a game where nobody believes we stand a chance?

It’s even hard to write “enjoy the game” with any conviction, because I know none on here will get even the slightest enjoyment from watching us have our rear ends handed to us on a silver platter. In all honesty, if I didn’t have to write the match report during the game, I mightn’t’ve tuned in myself – the mere thought of what might happen tomorrow is not an appealing prospect.

So all I can say is grin and bear it. After these two games, regroup, take stock, and look ahead to next season’s European involvement. With a better draw next season, maybe – just maybe – we stand a chance at getting out of our pool. That said, if it includes Toulon again, we’d maybe be better off staying at home…

Five changes for the defending European and French champions as they seek to make sure of their qualification for the last eight. There are two changes in the backs as Nicolas Sanchez comes in at fly-half to replace the unregistered Juan Martin Hernandez, while Maxime Mermoz shifts to inside centre and Mathieu Bastareaud returns to the starting line-up at outside centre. Xavier Chiocci is preferred to Alexandre Menini at loosehead prop, Martin Castrogiovanni starts ahead of Carl Hayman, while an injury to lock Bakkies Botha means there is a start for Romain Taofifenua.

Seven changes for Ulster, but the main news is that Darren Cave makes his 150th appearance for Ulster starting at outside centre. Jared Payne is promoted to full-back with Louis Ludik switching to the wing in place of the rested Tommy Bowe. Michael Allen also comes into the starting line-up on the other wing as Craig Gilroy is also rested. It is a completely changed front row with Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring and Bronson Ross all starting while Franco van der Merwe returns to the second row with Dan Tuohy ruled out. Mike McComish makes his first start of the season at openside flanker with Roger Wilson captaining the side from number eight.

We were underdogs when we headed to Leicester last season. We were underdogs going to Munster in the 2012 quarter-final. And we are most certainly underdogs here. If we can produce performances like we did against Leicester and Munster then there is something of a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel. But should we fall even a couple of percent off our top level then Globo Gym will pounce and make us pay.

It’s what the best do. And we aren’t them.

RC Toulon vs. Ulster Rugby
Saturday 17th January, 15:15
Stade Felix Mayol
European Rugby Champions’ Cup – Pool Game 5

Live on Sky Sports 2

15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. Drew Mitchell, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Maxime Mermoz, 11. Bryan Habana, 10. Nicolas Sanchez, 9. Sebastien Tillous-Borde; 1. Xavier Chiocci, 2. Guilhem Guirado, 3. Martin Castrogiovanni, 4. Jocelino Suta, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Juanne Smith, 7. Steffon Armitage, 8. Chris Masoe (capt.).

16. Jean-Charles Orioli, 17. Florian Fresia, 18. Carl Hayman, 19. Mamuka Gorgodze, 20. Rudi Wulf, 21. David Smith, 22. Eric Escande, 23. Romain Taofifenua.

15. Jared Payne, 14. Louis Ludik, 13. Darren Cave, 12. Stuart Olding, 11. Michael Allen, 10. Paddy Jackson, 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Andrew Warwick, 2. Rob Herring, 3. Bronson Ross, 4. Alan O’Connor, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Clive Ross, 7. Mike McComish, 8. Roger Wilson (capt.).

16. John Andrew, 17. Callum Black, 18. Declan Fitzpatrick, 19. Lewis Stevenson, 20. Robbie Diack, 21. Paul Marshall, 22. Ian Humphreys, 23. Michael Heaney.

Referee: Leighton Hodges (WRU)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Davies, Greg Morgan (both WRU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)[/tag]

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