Heineken Cup Final
Toulon 8/13, Saracens 5/4 (Saturday, Sky Sports 2, 16.00)
A final between two of this season’s best teams both in Europe and at home will have plenty to savour. Toulon went into last year’s Dublin final as 6/4 underdogs, with the single point victory available at 20/1 before kickoff. On Saturday the defending champions will be odds-on favourites while Saracens are available at around 5/4.
In another year, perhaps Saracens’ semi-final thrashing of Clermont would have made them favourites. Their defensive performance in Wembley’s semi-final was one for the ages. However, in Nice, Toulon had taken care of business against Munster after demolishing Leinster with the French outfit looking every inch the champions of last year after some stuttering performances in this season’s pool stage.
It’s easy to mock the manufactured nature of the “Wolf Pack” moniker along with the fawning nature of some parts of the media that happily build it up, but if it works then good luck to them. Heineken Cup player of the season Jacques Burger made 27 tackles in 69 minutes, and it wasn’t a fluke – earlier this season the Namibian made 34 tackles against Exeter to set a Premiership record.
Stopping Clermont from getting into their stride was one thing but Toulon’s stride can be one of a quite different nature. Field Marshal Wilkinson (pictured above) and his platoon would be more than happy in a nice tight game, with his boot seemingly dialled up a couple of notches for the knockout stages. Toulon have led both the Heineken Cup and Top 14 in successful penalties per game, and over the last two seasons Wilkinson has made 25 from 26 place kick attempts in the Heineken Cup knockouts with Delon Armitage’s long range scud missiles available if an intercontinental effort is needed.
Try-fests are uncommon in Heineken Cup finals day,with just 41 tries scored over the previous 18 finals. But despite the defensive muscle on both sides the match will not be short of tryscoring talent. Having already claimed the single-season Heineken Cup tryscoring record with 11, Chris Ashton is 9/1 to score the first try in the final with Toulon’s Bryan Habana and Drew Mitchell at 10/1 and 11/1 respectively. Number eights Steffon Armitage and Billy Vunipola are both 16/1 and in a potentially tight game their powerful ball carrying is worth a look.
There will be farewells after the final whistle as the game will be the last in Europe for the day’s two captains, as well as the referee, with all three retiring after the season. Saracens captain Steve Borthwick (pictured above) has quietly made the most appearances in European competition by an Englishman; 94 between Bath & Saracens. Jonny Wilkinson was a popular winner of his first Heineken Cup title last year but had put in some serious time in the Amlin Challenge Cup, remaining the second-highest points scorer (485) in the competition’s history.
Anyone fancying a sentimental punt on the two old timers might fancy Jonny Wilkinson to score a 22/1 fullhouse – try, penalty, conversion and, of course, a signature drop goal. Borthwick? Given that he has toiled for years under the approving eye of the rugby gods, perhaps they’ll send him over the line in Cardiff (25/1 to score a try in 80 minutes).
Referee Alain Rolland will take charge of this record-equalling third Heineken Cup final. The Irishman also played in the tournament for Leinster, making five appearances between 1995 and 1996.
It’s 4/7 that there will be a yellow card on Saturday (20/1 for a red) with Saracens favoured to receive the first yellow at 15/8. The finalists have shown reasonable discipline in the competition; Toulon have conceded 9.3 penalties per game, one fewer than Saracens whose 10.5 per game is almost exactly the competition average. Saracens have conceded four yellows in their eight games, Toulon three, while Rolland has given four yellow cards in his six matches.
Over the last five finals, two have seen the same team lead at half time and full time (Leinster 2012; Toulouse 2010), one has involved a draw (half time in the 2013 final) while the 2009 and 2011 finals both saw second half comebacks from Leinster after having been down at half time.
Second halves have been where Saracens have done some serious damage so far in the competition, first throttling games directly after half time before breaking open in the last 20 minutes. In eight games Saracens’ Heineken Cup opponents scored a total of six points from minutes 41 to 60. Six points, cumulatively. That is not a misprint.
- Toulon-Saracens = 8/1
- Saracens-Toulon = 6/1
- Saracens-Saracens = 12/5
- Toulon-Toulon = 11/10
- Any result involving a draw… 13/2