By Paul Jones
With the Scarlets dumped out at the semi-final stage by Glasgow Warriors, the only skin in the game for Welsh rugby at Friday night’s European Challenge Cup Final is with the man wearing No.10 for Toulon – Dan Biggar.
The Wales outside-half will be calling the shots, kicking the goals, catching his own high balls, waving his arms, ear-bashing the referee and generally doing what Dan Biggar does at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, which at least means a Welshman could have a big say in the outcome.
With Biggar on board, and the brilliant Springboks star Cheslin Kolbe at full-back, Toulon will be firm favourites to beat Glasgow and lift the second tier trophy for the first time.
The French giants also have the ageless – well, 39, actually – Sergio Parisse at No.8, the South African turned Scottish international Cornell du Preez at blindside, and the Fijian flier and Olympic gold medal winner Jiuta Waainiqolo on the wing.
Toulon’s average of four tries per game in this tournament in actually less than Glasgow’s average of five, but it’s in defence that the French club may have the edge.
The Warriors have conceded an average of 20 points per game, while mean old Toulon have given up an average of just 14.
Toulon have won the Heineken Champions Cup three times, but in four previous Challenge Cup finals, they have finished on the losing side.
Biggar aims to help them change that and says: “Everybody wants to be playing in the Champions Cup but the club has never won this before and lost in four finals.
“We are aware of the importance of this match for this club, president and supporters because it is a competition they have had some pain in.
“To achieve success would be a good starting point for the club and for me to come in and have some influence on the group and success to start.
“It doesn’t take the pressure off because we want to be competing for bigger honours. But for what we have at the minute, it would be an important step for the club who are looking to push on over the next year or two.”
— Rob Robertson (@SDM_Robertson) May 18, 2023
The Scarlets did well to reach the semi final stage, but they were well beaten, 35-17, by a vibrant Glasgow who are capable of shocking their French opponents if they reach those heights again.
They also overcame the South Africans, the Emirates Lions, 31-21 in the quarter-final and absolutely hammered the hapless Dragons, 73-33, in the round of 16.
Like the Scotland team, the Warriors’ rugby is high pace, high octane stuff with hooker Johnny Matthews a player who likes to get among the tries. Matthews is the leading scorer in the tournament so far with seven.
But Matthews starts on the bench on Friday with Fraser Brown picked ahead of him.
Glasgow also have the Scotland centre pairing of Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu in midfield and the finishing power of Kyle Steyn out wide.
If they win, then Glasgow would become the first Scottish side to lift a European trophy and they have already clinched a place in the top tier European Heineken Cup next season after a fourth-placed finish in the United Rugby Championship (URC).
All that in South African coach Franco Smith’s first season in charge.
Those with long memories in Welsh rugby will remember Smith once played outside-half for Newport in pre-regional days.
Friday's European Challenge Cup final will see Glasgow Warriors take on Toulon in Dublin.https://t.co/30Tm8CIxsr
— STV Sport (@STVSport) May 18, 2023
European Challenge Cup final
Friday, 8.00pm, Dublin
Toulon v Glasgow Warriors