European Cup rugby holders Toulon will start as the slight favourites in their semi-final on Sunday against Ireland’s two-time champions Munster, the French club’s head coach Bernard Laporte said on Monday.
The 49-year-old former France coach – serving a 16-week touchline ban for abusing a referee – says playing the match in nearby Marseille will give them the edge over the Irish province.
The winners of Sunday’s game will play the victors in Saturday’s first semi-final at Twickenham between English side Saracens and another French outfit Clermont, who Toulon beat in the final last year.
“All the Munster coaching staff were at our Top 14 game at Barcelona on Saturday (in which they beat Perpignan 46-31) and they have nothing but the European Cup in their heads,” said Laporte.
“Their strength in the mauls is a redoubtable weapon. They are equally strong in the lineouts as well.
“They haven’t reached this stage of the competition for nothing but then they have to say the same thing about us.
“We have a slight advantage in that we are playing at home, at the Velodrome.
“One can say that the match is 51-49 per cent in our favour – even if one recalls that last year we went away to Saracens (in England) and won.”
Laporte, who twice guided France to the World Cup semi-finals in 2003 and 2007 but on both occasions lost to bitter historical rivals England, said his team were in better form and shape – their win over Perpignan took them top of the Top 14 table – than last year because there was more competition for places.
“This season, we have a squad of 30 to 35 players competing for places in the line-ups for both competitions (Top 14 and European Cup).
“However, one has to have a large body of players to select from, otherwise it is impossible to focus on two fronts.”
World Cup winners Bakkies Botha (Springboks in 2007) and Ali Williams (All Blacks 2011) are injured and doubtful for the game.
However, there was better news on English kicking legend Jonny Wilkinson, who has missed two games through injury.
“Jonny Wilkinson trained normally today and will be fit for Sunday,” said Laporte.