Toulon aiming to lead Top 14 Rugby

Toulon’s second choice team were hammered in last Saturday’s European Cup clash with Munster but on Saturday their first choice XV will be set on beating Stade Francais and keeping the pressure on Top 14 leaders Racing-Metro.

Toulon – who have gone on record as saying winning the Top 14 is their priority – could even go top were they to win at the Stade de France and Racing-Metro slip up at home to Bayonne on Friday.

Toulon’s forwards coach, former France scrum-half Aubin Hueber says that lessons will have been learnt from the 45-18 humbling by Munster and will be put into effect against Stade, who lie eighth four points off Racing.

“Munster showed us what it requires at that level,” said Hueber.

“It was like a test match compared to a Top 14 clash. Only the players on our side who have international experience came out of it intact.

“However, out of every heavy defeat there are always lessons to be learnt and we will hopefully show we took those on board when we play Stade.

“They are a big side and have played well this season so it will be tough but we are capable of performing better.”

Toulon should definitely start with England World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson, who was left out of the starting line-up against Munster but when introduced shone in what was already a lost cause, dropping a goal and creating a try with a delightful crosskick.

Hueber, though, says that if Toulon are really to be a viable contender for the overall title they have to win matches like Saturday’s and also the Stade clash begins a crucial part of their title campaign.

“Stade are getting better and better and started a second choice side in their European Challenge match against Leeds last weekend in England (Stade won 22-13) so we have to I repeat use the experience gained in our first two European Cup matches to counter them.

“We are to my mind entering a crucial part of the season for us in France and if we exit this part of the campaign in positive territory both in terms of points and in terms of our style of play then that will make the future interesting.”

Racing’s hopes of maintaining their slight lead at the top – they lead Toulon, Montpellier and Toulouse by a point – have taken a jolt as they will still be missing Argentinian star Juan Martin Hernandez and former Bayonne wing Benjamin Fall is also unable to meet his former side because of a back injury.

European champions Toulouse will also have their eyes on top spot and host 2009 Top 14 champions Perpignan in a mouthwatering clash on Saturday.

The four-time European Cup winners have not won the domestic title since 2008, a statistic that wouldn’t be alarming to most people. But to their emotional manager Guy Noves it amounts to failure.

Toulouse will be looking to their evergreen centre Yannick Jauzion again on Saturday to lead from the front as the 32-year-old 68-times capped star has done on so many occasions leaving his team-mates and Noves in awe of him.

“He has the mentality, the intelligence, the physique,” purred Noves, never one to hand out praise liberally.

“He knew how to adapt to modern rugby both in the physical sense, but above all it is his vision which allows him to get his team-mates involved in the game.”

Even more satisfying for Jauzion is that the player who threatened his number one spot in the national side Maxime Mermoz – who left Toulouse for Perpignan having given up on ever displacing the older man – will not be facing him as he is injured.

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