Heineken Cup: Toulon can tame Leicester Tigers

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THIS afternoon’s tie between Toulon and Leicester Tigers is the most mouth-watering encounter of the weekend’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

It pitches two high-flying teams against each other, first in France’s Top 14 against second in the Aviva Premiership, and also sees a collision of two conflicting rugby philosophies.

Thanks to the largesse of their owner, the comic publisher Mourad Boudjellal, Toulon are the biggest spending club the rugby world has ever seen. They reputedly paid Jonny Wilkinson the thick end of ¤1 million (£850,000) per annum and while he has taken a pay cut to secure another year of employment, Toulon still spend money like a drunken lottery winner. Toulon boast players from every corner of the earth, with twin giants Andrew Sheridan of England and Carl Hayman of New Zealand holding up the scrum.

In contrast, Leicester are more level headed, preferring the Manchester United route to success, with a core of homegrown talent to supplement the expensive imports such as Martin Castrogiovanni, who has come to symbolise the Midlanders’ spirit more than most Englishmen.

Castro is just one in a series of sub plots that are playing alongside the main event. The Italian international wants a move to Toulon but, with one more year on his contract, Leicester are said to be holding out for a big pay-off. Toulon are evidently fed up with being everyone else’s piggy bank and are dragging their heels.

Elsewhere, the stand-off battle sees the master take on his long-time pupil when Wilkinson goes head to head with Toby Flood, the man who understudied him for years at Newcastle Falcons.

Leicester have invaluable experience of winning matches at the sharp end of this competition and the Tigers have been to the final on five occasions and won two of them. Toulon have never been this far and you have to wonder how much of their focus is on Europe and how much on picking up their first domestic title since 1992.

The only problem with that theory is the home support, who witness defeat at Stade Felix Mayol about as often as they witness snowfall: only Racing have triumphed there this season. The Toulon crowd are a boisterous bunch and have their own “Haka” known as “Pilou Pilou”. It will be sung when the team takes the field, again if Toulon win and just about whenever it takes their fancy. It is done on a call and response basis with any number of French celebrities lining up to take the microphone. Boudjellal himself orchestrated the cheers when Toulon won promotion back into the Top 14 several years back. Like the Haka the words probably make more sense in their native language but here goes…

Man with microphone: Ah! We are the ruthless Pilou-Pilou warriors

Coming down from the mountain to the sea

Crowd: Pilou-Pilou!

Man with mic: With our dishevelled women breastfeeding our children

Under the shade of the great white coconut trees

Crowd: Pilou-Pilou!

Man with mic: We the ruthless warriors sing our ruthless war cry

Crowd: AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!

Man with mic: I said our RUTHLESS WAR CRY!

Crowd: AAAARRRGGGGHHHHH!

Man with mic: Because Tou-lon

Crowd: RED!

Man with mic: Because Tou-lon

Crowd: BLACK!

Man with mic: Because Tou-lon

Crowd: RED AND BLACK!

“Once more unto the breach dear friends” it ain’t but sung by 14,000-plus fanatical Toulon supporters with an English club to intimidate, this call to arms will put the frighteners on any Leicester player who isn’t made of stone.

If the Tigers can withstand the brutal physical onslaught that is coming their way in the opening quarter of the match they might, just might, find a way past the French giants. But if the visitors give Wilkinson the chance to put points on the board and get the crowd animated, the home side should have too much firepower.

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