All-French European Cup rugby final an international affair

Iconic English fly-half Jonny Wilkinson will seek to add a continental crown to his honours when his Toulon club take on French rivals Clermont in the European Cup final on Saturday.

The match at Dublin's Aviva Stadium might be between two French Top 14 clubs, but on paper it is a truly international clash, with top players from across the globe ready to battle it out for the ultimate honour in northern hemisphere club rugby.

Clermont, with eight wins on the bounce and a squad of international superstars, are slight favourites, leading Toulon president Mourad Boudjellal to claim he has already accepted second place.

"We are up against a very impressive team," Boudjellal said. "We would be stupid to think we are better than Clermont. So we are preparing to lose. We will be the runners up and it's not that bad."

Of course, the outspoken comic book tycoon is nothing if not mischievous with his words, and nobody else in the red and black will be expecting a loser's medal on Saturday evening.

Clermont won 24-21 in the first league meeting this season, but the pair shared to spoils in a 26-26 stalemate in Toulon, indicating there's not much between these two wealthy units.

Wilkinson scored 10 points when the sides last met, and the playmaker who booted England to a memorable World Cup victory in 2003 is certain to have a say in the outcome on Saturday.

"There aren't many teams in Europe that can claim anything like the amount of bulk Clermont have, but Toulon are definitely one of them," said former Munster and Ireland backrower Alan Quinlan.

"If they can keep it nip and tuck, they have an ace up their sleeve, because for all their vast array of talent, I still come back to one man. I come back to Wilkinson. He just stands out.

"Clermont are a better-balanced team but Toulon have the match-winner in the number 10 shirt."

Clermont, making a first appearance in the European Cup final, may feel destined for victory, but coach Vern Cotter admits his side can't afford to let Wilkinson's left boot dominate a game that may be decided by kicking.

"For us, it is about being able to get fast ball, play a high tempo, keep them moving," said the Kiwi. "That's our basic game plan. They are a very physical team, they dominate and then create gaps and exploit them."

Clermont can count on the trusted boot of Morgan Parra should it come to a kicking duel, with the French scrum-half leading Wilkinson in the tournament's top points scoring charts, with 109 so far.

While both teams boast incredibly physical packs, the neutrals will be salivating at the talent on show in the backs.

Clermont's Napolioni Nalaga and Wesley Fofana have bagged 12 tries between them, while Delon Armitage, Rudi Wulf and Mathieu Basteraud will keep Clermont's defenders on their toes.

"I am very eager to do battle against Toulon," said Fofana, a standout performer for France in their poor Six Nations showing.

"This is a final and if we win that will be an exceptional achievement.

"We are playing another French club but we are preparing for a European Cup final and we know more about Toulon than a foreign team because we've already played two games this season against Toulon. For me that is a positive.

"I think the score will be extremely tight, whenever we play Toulon the difference on the scoreboard is very little, and I'm sure there will be no difference of 30 points on Saturday night!"

Fofana added: "The desire will be present on both sides - as you would expect in such a massive game - and we are well aware that Jonny Wilkinson will punish any of our mistakes."

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