Saffas vow to make history

Toulon stand on the brink of a historic double in the Top 14 final against Castres in Paris on Saturday.

And their six-strong South African contingent have vowed to do all in their power to make Toulon the first club since Toulouse in 1996 to win the Top 14 and the European Cup in one season.

Bakkies Botha, one of Toulon's key players after rejuvenating his career, was quick to point out that the club, for all its high-priced overseas signings, was something special.

'People said we're just a bunch of foreigners on holiday in the south of France, earning big money and counting down towards retiring,' he said. 'But we have proved over the past two years just how much playing for Toulon means to us and how much it means to make this club into one of the best in the world.'

Bryan Habana added: 'It definitely is a tall ask of any player to go on and win two finals in consecutive weekends, but if you want to be seen as the best in the world. If you want to be part of a club that can create history you've got to lay down everything on the line every weekend. Doing the double would be something amazing, something historic. I think everyone at this club would love to be a part of that.'

Toulon have added incentives in wanting to give the iconic Jonny Wilkinson a celebratory send-off in his last game, along with their Saffa stalwart Danie Rossouw, who is also retiring.

But they have been here before, against the same opposition. And last year they came horribly short, as South African star Rory Kockott used his boot imaginatively to keep Toulon on the back foot.

But this year, there is a sense that complacency is not an issue, and in demolishing Saracens 23-6 in the European Cup final with a performance more dynamic than the scoreline suggests, they showed they have an extra steely edge and ruthless determination. It was demonstrated by the onslaught spearheaded by the loose trio of Juan Smith, Steffon Armitage and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, backed by Craig Burden's piledriving tackles, which rocked even the hardmen of Saracens. It gave Wilkinson a platform from which to control the game.

Kockott has played some major roles during Castre's climb to the top, and if he is in form, the outcome will always be in doubt. But Castres rely far too heavily on his boot, and they must acknowledge that their presence in the final is extremely fortuitous. They finished sixth on the log at the end of the season, winning 13 of 26 matches. But they are on a streak, which includes conquering fortress Clermont, and they too will make history if they defend their title.

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 Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Xavier Chiocci.
Subs: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Jocelino Suta , 19 Virgile Bruni, 20 Danie Rossouw, 21 Maxime Mermoz , 22 Michael Claassens, 23 Martin Castrogiovanni.

Castres – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Max Evans, 13 Romain Cabannes, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Remi Tales, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Yannick Caballero, 6 Piula Faasalele, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau.
Subs: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 Jan Bornman, 20 Cedric Garcia, 21 Seremaia Bai, 22 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23 Mihaita Lazar.

Photo: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images