Saffas line up for European honours

A total of 12 players who learned their trade on South African fields will meet at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the European Cup final on Saturday.

Toulon's glittering line-up includes the likes of Springboks Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha and Juan Smith, while Saracens have moulded what they now call the 'Wolfpack' around the outstanding hooker Schalk Brits and the rugged Namibian flank Jacques Burger, formerly of Griquas and the Bulls.

In many ways, those names illustrate the dynamics of the contest. Toulon have spent generously in building a formidable team, based around the inimitable Jonny Wilkinson, who will be playing his last European game in his much-decorated career before retirement. His precise boot and 360-degree vision provide the catalyst for the attacks which launch Habana, Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell behind the defence. Saracens take the more prosaic route and use the ferocity of their pack to stabilise the situation before England flyhalf Owen Farrell makes his move.

The contest between the flyhalves will be fascinating; a clash between master and apprentice. Wilkinson is not one remembered for lancing linebreaks, but for his probing and testing tactical awareness. Farrell has become a much more attacking player since the last time these two faced off, in a European Cup semi-final in Cardiff last year. On that occasion, Wilkinson gave the rookie a lesson which he would never forget. But with his new maturity, Saracens have become a potent attacking force. They have averaged more points (35) and tries (4.8) per game than any other side in the Cup this season, and have also made more clean breaks (9.9) per game. Wing Chris Ashton has scored a record 11 tries this season. But they must just remember that Wilkinson is the top point-scorer, hitting 100, and it is no surprise Toulon average more successful penalty kicks per game (4.3) than any other.

The Saracens wolfpack is renown for its tenacious defence and tireless ability to absorb pressure, as well as its aggressive scrapping for possession at the breakdown, led by Billy Vunipola, Kelly Brown and Burger, whith Brits acting as a fourth loosie. Against them is Steffon Armitage, who has effected more turnovers than anyone else this season (17) and Smith, now getting back to Springbok quality after two years away injured.

If Saracens can keep Wilkinson pegged back and out of range, they could come away with their first European trophy. But it's a big if.

Toulon – 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Steffon Armitage, 7 Juan-Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Danie Rossouw, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Subs: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ali Williams, 20 Virgile Bruni, 21 Maxime Mermoz , 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Jocelino Suta

Saracens – 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Wyles.

Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images