Toulon primed to clinch first ever European hat-trick

Influential Armitage set to cause Clermont havoc
HARRY MADLEY PREVIEWS THE ALL-FRENCH EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL AND BEN CLEMINSON LOOKS AT TOTTENHAM V MAN CITY

THE INAUGURAL European Champions Cup final between French pair Toulon and Clermont Auvergne will take place at Twickenham tomorrow. The clash is the seventh major European final between teams from the same country and, with a heavy spread of international representation across the field, it promises to be a high-quality spectacle.

With the World Cup 140 days away there will be two names which England fans will be paying particular attention to: messrs Nick Abendanon and Steffon Armitage. Welsh interest is represented by Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies.

Reigning champions Toulon are a best-priced 17/20 with Betway for the showpiece with their rivals at 6/5. Victory would give the favourites an unprecedented third successive European title, having triumphed over Clermont in 2013 and Saracens last year when it was the Heineken Cup.

Former Bath full-back Abendanon couldn’t have asked for a better start to life in the south of France. The Clermont 15 has caused carnage with his open field running – he’s beaten 30 defenders in the competition to date, 24 more than his opposite number Halfpenny.

Abendanon has also made seven more clean breaks than the Welshman. The midfield combination of Wesley Fofana and Jonathan Davies adds even more danger to Clermont’s offensive capabilities.

However, Bernard Laporte will be content with 5ft9inch full back Halfpenny if he continues to display his impeccable kicking. Halfpenny has slotted 87% of his 41 shots at goal in this tournament, but will need to be on form once again if he is to counteract the boot of Clermont’s kicker Brock James. The Australian hasn’t missed a kick in his last 11 opportunities. Buying Toulon’s Team Kicking Metres at 165 appeals.

Toulon boast the competition’s highest number of turnovers to date (78) and the irrepressible 16st3lb Armitage is responsible for 27% of them. The back-rower has scored 115 points since his arrival in 2011 and was named 2013/2014 European Player of the Year. He is set to dominate the likes of Julien Bonnaire and Julien Bardy at the breakdown to further enhance his prospects of international representation.

Even if the finale has the smallest European crowd since 2003 it should not detract from the standard of rugby that we can expect to see. Having been there and done it twice already, Toulon should have the nous and experience to rack up the hat-trick and etch their name into rugby history.

■ Pointers…
Buy Toulon’s Kicking Metres at 165 with Sporting Index
Toulon at 17/20 with Betway