Champions Cup: Toulon v Wasps Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

RC Toulon v London Wasps | Sunday 17 January | Stade Mayol | 19:20

Toulon host the London Wasps this weekend in a game that could define the French giant’s season. They currently sit in second place in group 5 of the Champions Cup but a loss here could see Bath – who take on pool 5’s cellar dwellers, Leinster – leapfrog them into second place.

While Toulon are fighting for survival in the Champions Cup, Wasps could secure their qualification to the knockout phase with a win at the Stade Mayol this Sunday.

Let’s see how the teams are shaping up for Sunday’s clash.

To Win (80 Mins)
Toulon 1/6
Draw 32/1
Wasps 4/1

Bernard Laporte’s side really struggled in their victory over Bath last weekend. The visitors came to the Stade Mayol with a simple but effective game plan – shut down Quade Copper. While Bath aren’t the first side to employ this strategy against the Galactico's, they executed better than anyone else has.

Bath’s blitz defensive system ensured Nonu and Copper were unable to find any space in which to operate. While Bath’s implementation of the system was textbook, I can’t help but feel that Toulon were a bit na├»ve. When an opposing defensive line is pushing up quickly, they generally leave a lot of space in behind. A well-executed chip or grubber can help expose that vacant part of the field. And while most teams use their nine (or a loose forward in some cases) to cover this space by sweeping in behind the defensive line, Bath simply weren’t forced to do this, as Quade Cooper continued to look to spread the ball to his outside backs.

Another worrying facet of Toulon’s game, that was exposed last weekend, was their own defensive pattern. Once again Cooper was culpable here. He failed to push up on his man and there were huge spaces left between himself and Ma’a Nonu that Bath managed to exploit. While Cooper was the main culprit, Nonu also has to take a share of the blame. With all his years of experience, you’d have expected him to identify the issue and try and resolve it.

They’re going to need to rectify their defensive issues before this weekend’s game otherwise, they may find their qualification hopes all but ended as Wasps have an extremely talented centre pairing who thrive when given space.

It will be interesting to see if Laporte opts to continue with Cooper at ten or if he brings Fredric Michalak into the starting XV. The French veteran looked decent when he replaced Cooper last week and while he’s not the best defender, he does know how to organize a backline.

Michalak could well be joined in the starting XV by Steffon Armitage as Duane Vermeulen failed to impress last weekend. The former Western province bruiser still seems to not be fully over the serious neck injury he sustained at the beginning of 2015. I also think that Vermeulen may be more effective coming off the bench rather than starting while he's acclimatizing to the heavy European fields. I mean, can you imagine having to try and stop the big man after you’ve been defending for the most part of 60 minutes? Not the most appealing prospect if I do say so myself.

Wasps seem to have returned to form after a bit of a poor run in December which saw them lose four out of five games in all competitions. That poor run looked set to continue last weekend when they took on Worcester in the Aviva Premiership. They were down for the majority of the game but a late three try blitz ensured they would beat their domestic rivals 32-22.

One of the standout players in that game, was Wasps loosehead prop, Matt Mullan. The big man has some amazing stats attached to his name. He hasn't missed a single tackle in the Champions Cup this season; completing 43 of his 43 tackle attempts. His ferocious tackling and ability to anchor a scrum could well prove key this weekend.

That win would have given Dai Young’s men a massive confidence boost heading into this weekend’s Champions Cup tie. They will also take heart from their home European game against Toulon earlier this season in which they defeated the French club by a hugely impressive scoreline of 32-6.

While this season's stats seem to favour Wasps, their overall stats aren’t as kind. Wasps have only managed to win four of their 12 Pool stage fixtures against French opposition since the days of the Heineken Cup. And the last time they met Toulon at the Stade Mayol, they went down by fourteen points.

Not the best statistics ever but as they say, stats never won a rugby match.

Verdict: Wasps 4/1
It’s a massive risk and I would not recommend putting your house on it but I feel Wasps may be able to get a win at the Stade Mayol. Toulon are struggling defensively and Wasps have the players to exploit their unstructured rush defense. The away side offers terrific value at 4/1 for the win.

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