Boasting 833 international caps, five British and Irish Lions and two World Cup winners, Toulon have one of the strongest club squads ever assembled
For fans of French rugby, Stade Toulousain have always been acknowledged as the gold standard XV. Their enigmatic coach, Guy Noves, has skilfully steered the team to countless trophies and has managed to keep the club at the very top of European rugby for the last twenty years. According to the aficionados in France this looks likely to continue well into the distant future.
However, during the last few seasons there have emerged a few strong contenders to take over Stade Toulousain’s supremacy. One of these will be Sunday’s visitors to the Arms Park, Racing Club Toulonnais.
Toulon were the holders of the Bouclier de Brennus (a trophy awarded to the winners of the French Championship) in 1931, 1987 and 1992. But in the mid-nineties things started to go wrong and the club found itself languishing in the second division for a long period of time. Step forward Mourad Boudjellal, a local businessman and rugby fanatic who made his fortune creating, publishing and selling comic strip magazines. By investing millions of euros in the club, his dream was to make it the best in France and indeed Europe.
Since 2006, the list of players whose names have appeared on the Toulon team sheets read like a Who’s Who of world rugby - Quesada, Luger, Umaga, Gregan, Mehrtens, Wilkinson, Hayman, Botha, Giteau, Fernández Lobbe, van Niekerk, Jenkins, Shaw. To date Monsieur Boudjellal’s dream has not been realised – beaten by the Blues in the final of the Amlin Cup (28-21) in Marseille in 2010 and by Biarritz (21-18) at the Twickenham Stoop in 2012. And just to rub salt into the wound, they emerged runners-up to Toulouse in the final of last season’s Championnat Final at the Stade de France in front of 80,000 fans.
Many believe that the 2012/13 season could well be Toulon’s turn to triumph. They have a squad of players which is strong in every aspect of the game coupled with a great team spirit and self belief. The present Toulon side is a truly international one, made up of players from all corners of the globe including Y Groesfaen! Most have already gained honours at the highest level but they are all united in one goal – to bring glory to the area and repay Mourad Boudjellal for his generosity.
Speaking of the challenge ahead, Cardiff Blues Director of Rugby Phil Davies said,
“Toulon are a powerful unit, a powerful team and have world-class players in every position times two.
“They have a galaxy of stars but we also have our own, which is important.
“It will be a heck of an occasion to test ourselves against one of the best squads in Europe and will be a great opportunity for us.
“Their salary cap is three or four times ours, but we have a group of young players who are up for the challenge. It’s a great opportunity to get stuck into them and try to beat them.
“There are a couple of players who stood up and said how excited they are to be facing them.
“We want the victory and have the opportunity to do it.
“It’s a tall order but I hope the supporters get behind us.”
Tickets for the Cardiff Blues v Toulon match, Sunday 21 October, 12.45pm kick off, are available online at www.cardiffblues.com/tickets or by calling 029 2030 2030, starting at £18 for an adult terrace ticket.