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Lyon v Toulon - European Challenge Cup Final: Preview

There is a distinctly French flavour to Friday's European Rugby Challenge Cup final as Lyon take on compatriots Toulon in Marseille.

The match marks the first time Lyon have reached a continental final, but it is a different story for Toulon.

The Mediterranean club won the Champions Cup three years in a row between 2013 and 2015 and have lost this competition's showpiece on three occasions, most recently in 2020.

Toulon, 4/11 in the two-way betting, currently sit a point above Lyon in the Top 14 standings and it could be their night at the Stade Velodrome.

Toulon the form side

After a sticky start to the season, Toulon have stormed through the spring, winning their last six in the Top 14 and beating London Irish 19-18 in the quarter-finals of this competition before upsetting Saracens 25-16 in the last four.

Lyon had too much for Glasgow in their 35-27 quarter-final win, before fly-half Leo Berdeu scored 15 points in the 20-18 semi-final success against Wasps.

While Toulon fly into this match, Lyon have stuttered, losing their last three domestically, including a 43-10 home defeat to Toulon on 2nd April.

Therefore, it is no surprise to see Toulon are leading the betting, with Lyon 2/1 to win their maiden European crown.

Battles across the pitch

The salary cap question will continue to be asked by English clubs and it seems no coincidence that three out of the four semi-finalists in this competition were from the Top 14.

It was the same story in the Champions Cup, with Saracens and Leinster the odd sides out over the two events and, the quality of these sides means there are intriguing battles across the field.

Fly-halves Berdeu and Louis Carbonel will both be hoping to be provided with the required platform to perform as they push each other for a spot in their country's battle for the number 10 shirt, with Romain Ntamack and Mathieu Jalibert currently the leading pair heading into next year's World Cup.

Meanwhile, Lyon flanker Dylan Cretin will be keen to prove he deserves a starting role for Les Bleus against arguably the greatest wing-forward in the Northern Hemisphere, Charles Ollivon.

The Toulon skipper has recovered from injury after missing his country's Grand Slam success and is as good as ever.

Their battle at the breakdown could be key and Lyon's numbers are impressive, boasting the best ruck success rate in this season's Challenge Cup with 97 per cent.

However, Ollivon has made a tournament-best five dominant tackles and produced a mammoth 18 hits against Sarries.

Out the back, Toulon left-wing Gabin Villiere was one of the stars as France won the Grand Slam and has scored four tries in as many matches in this competition, including a brace against Saracens.

Meanwhile, Lyon's number 11 Davit Niniashvili has made five line breaks in this year's tournament and has a competition-high 11 offloads and competition-best 503 metres.

Mixed loyalties for Mignoni?

There is another sub-plot with the news that Lyon coach Pierre Mignoni will return to Toulon - for whom he was backs coach during their European glory days between 2013 and 2015 - after Friday's game.

The former France scrum-half has spent the last seven years in Lyon and says global events mean that playing in a final is a "privilege", but that "it will be historic only if we win - we only remember the winner".

Those comments suggest he is fully focused on Lyon and while there has been a considerable turnover of players and staff since his previous stint at the Stade Mayol, he may still have a few insider tips on Toulon's shape on both sides of the ball.

However, that didn't look to be the case when these two met in April and Mignoni may well be taking over the newly-crowned Challenge Cup winners.

Toulon are 10/11 with a -6.5 handicap and might be worth taking on. That said, their current form suggests they should have too much to experience any Marseille misery when they make the short trip along the coast.

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