Heineken Cup 2014: Toulon star Bryan Habana set to face Munster
Heineken Cup 2014: South Africa star Bryan Habana is set to make his second European appearance against Munster
Bryan Habana is set to make just his second Heineken Cup appearance after recovering from tendonitis to make the starting XV for Toulon’s semi-final clash with Munster in Marseille.
The South African 2007 Rugby World Cup winner starts on the left wing for the reigning champions with former Australian international Drew Mitchell on the right wing with England’s Delon Armitage at full-back.
Toulon will be captained by talisman Jonny Wilkinson after the outside-half passed a fitness test and he is joined at half-back by Sebastien Tillous-Borde with Mathieu Bastareaud and Matt Giteau continuing their midfield partnership.
The lads put their heads down and really pick things up in a Heineken Cup week
The Top14 leaders are without Bakkies Botha, Ali Williams and Chris Masoe, but are still packed with international talent in their pack, with two world cup-winning forwards in the form of South Africans Juan Smith and Danie Rossouw.
Steffon Armitage, who was man of the match in their quarter-final win over Leinster and has been handed an international lifeline this week by Stuart Lancaster, again packs down on the openside with Smith on the blindside and Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe at number 8.
Rossouw is partnered in the second row by Jocelino Suta with loosehead prop Xavier Chiocci packing down in the front row with hooker Craig Burden and former All Blacks tighthead Carl Hayman.
Toulon have never lost in 12 European matches in France but, in Munster, they face a club which has progressed to the final four times when they have been the away team, including their 2006 and 2008 seasons when they won titles at the Millennium Stadium, which is the most away wins by any club at this stage of the tournament.
Playing in his first semi-final for Munster, hooker Damien Varley will captain the side as he packs down with Dave Kilcoyne and BJ Botha with Ireland captain Paul O’Connell marshalling the team from the second row alongside Dave Foley.
Club captain Peter O’Mahony is still out injured so CJ Stander continues on the blindside and will hope to pick up where he left off against Toulouse. Sean Dougall, who returns on the openside for the first time since December’s visit to Perpignan, and James Coughlan at number eight, complete the back row.
Ian Keatley, the tournament’s joint leading points scorer this season with opposite number Wilkinson, starts at outside-half alongside scrum-half Conor Murray as Munster head coach Rob Penney names an unchanged backline from the one which thumped Toulouse at Thomond Park three weeks ago.
Felix Jones continues at full-back with Keith Earls and Simon Zebo back on the wings. Casey Laulala has recovered from a fractured bone in his hand to partner James Downey in midfield.
Toulon have stormed three points clear at the top of the French league in recent weeks while Munster have struggled in the RaboDirect Pro12 with three defeats in their last five games, but centre Downey admits that the Irish province’s special relationship with the Heineken Cup brings the best out of them.
“The lads put their heads down and really pick things up in a Heineken Cup week,” Downey said. “It’s a competition where we do produce big performances.
“You’re in front of everyone and everyone ups their game for it, really focuses on it and switches on for the Heineken Cup.”
Toulon: Delon Armitage; Drew Mitchell, Mathieu Bastareaud, Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana; Jonny Wilkinson (captain), Sebastien Tillous-Borde; Xavier Chiocci, Craig Burden, Carl Hayman, Danie Rossouw, Jocelino Suta, Juan Smith, Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe, Steffon Armitage.
Replacements: Jean-Charles Orioli, Alexander Menini, Martin Castrogiovanni, Virgile Bruni, David Smith, Maxime Mermoz, Michael Claassens, Konstantin Mikautadze.
Munster: Felix Jones; Keith Earls, Casey Laulala, James Downey, Simon Zebo; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Damien Varley (captain), BJ Botha, Dave Foley, Paul O’Connell, CJ Stander, Sean Dougall, James Coughlan.
Replacements: Duncan Casey, James Cronin, John Ryan, Donncha O’Callaghan, Tommy O’Donnell; Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Denis Hurley.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)