Biarritz Toulouse the Heineken Cup final
What a year it has been for French rugby. First the national side clinched the Six Nations Grand Slam and now two Top 14 sides, Biarritz and Toulouse, battle it out to be crowned Heineken Cup champions at the Stade de France.
Many of the Grand Slam winners will feature in the showpiece final in Paris. Leading out Toulouse will be France captain Thierry Dusautoir. He has suffered a frustrating time in previous Heineken Cup finals as he has twice been on the losing side.
This year though the national skipper should be able to banish those painful memories as I fully expect his Toulouse side to be crowned champions on Saturday evening.
The three-time former winners are the 1/3 favourites to win in 80 minutes and although the price is short it is still a good bet.
The Heineken Cup has been Toulouse's clear priority all season long, so much so that in last week's Top 14 semi-final against Perpignan many players were rested.
The gamble by Guy Noves didn't pay off though as their dreams of a famous double vanished with a bruising 21-13 loss.
Nevertheless they should still be able to end their season on a high.
In the semi-finals Toulouse beat the defending champions Leinster 26-16. Their dominance of the set pieces was crucial to the victory and it is something that once again will aid them at the Stade de France.
Their pack should have too much power for their Biarritz counterparts which will enable Byron Kelleher to get quick ball and effectively use his devastating backs outside of him.
Key to Toulouse's chances will be keeping their discipline as, despite their great counter-attacking, I believe the match will be a tight affair and if their penalty count is high then Biarritz have the clinical Dimitri Yachvili who will punish them at every opportunity.
Yachvili kicked all of Biarritz's 18 points in San Sebastian when they defeated Munster in the semi-finals so it is essential that Toulouse do not present him with the opportunities to hurt them.
In order to try and help them stamp their authority on the game the Basque side might try and get some points on the board as early as possible. Therefore the 10/1 about the first scoring play being a drop goal for Biarritz could be a bit of value.
Imanol Harinordoquy was inspirational in the semi-final victory as he played with a face mask to protect his broken nose and then half way through the second half had to leave the pitch due to a rib injury.
However, the number eight has been declared fit to play in the final which is a massive boost to the underdogs. He is undoubtedly one of their best players and if he performs how he did in the semi and in the Six Nations then his side will not be without a chance.
Another cause for optimism for Biarritz is the fact that they are coming into the final fresh as because they failed to reach the Top 14 play-offs they have not played since their Heineken Cup semi-final victory on 2nd May.
On the other hand Toulouse have played two matches in the Top 14 play-offs since their Heineken Cup semi success.
Toulouse may have rested some players for the domestic matches but some of them came off the bench and one cannot estimate the mental fatigue some of their players could be suffering from after a long, hard season.
For these reasons I am going to back Biarritz +7 on the main handicap line at 10/11. As although Toulouse have the superior line-up I think that Yachvili's superb goal-kicking could be enough to see them stay in touch with the three-time champs throughout the match.
For those expecting a classic final I believe they will be disappointed but the tension and atmosphere in the Stade de France will mean it should still be a great occasion.