Rugby: Toulouse split in two halves over Wasps

21st May 2004, Comments 0 comments

TOULOUSE, France, May 21 (AFP) - Toulouse coach Guy Noves has yet to decide whether to pick tearaway France scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde or Test fly-half Frederic Michalak as his No 9 for Sunday's European Cup final against English champions Wasps.

TOULOUSE, France, May 21 (AFP) - Toulouse coach Guy Noves has yet to decide whether to pick tearaway France scrum-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde or Test fly-half Frederic Michalak as his No 9 for Sunday's European Cup final against English champions Wasps.

Michalak's recent ankle injury has slowed him down a bit and Noves would not say who will play alongside club No 10 Yann Delaigue. He has shuffled his half-back combinations all season.

"I don't know whether I'll play the first hour or come on as a replacement but I do know I'm fit and ready," Elissalde said.

Elissalde knows he will only please his hard-to-satisfy coach if he inspires Toulouse to a win at Twickenham.

Noves, never one to hide his feelings, accused his player of professional misconduct when he scored a 40-metre try for France against Wales in March.

Elissalde, already struggling with injury, tore his hamstring and was ruled out for nine weeks.

He missed the Six Nations Grand Slam showdown with England and at one point it looked as if he would miss his second European final in successive years.

"Let's just say I've got a lot to make up," he said.

He missed last year's Lansdowne Road European Cup final win over Perpignan with a similar injury. "I'm really looking forward to Sunday's match," he said.

"Wasps are a fast, powerful side but a bit one-dimensional. Hopefully there a few flaws to exploit."

Noves expects his players to raise their game following last Saturday's French championship play-off defeat to Stade Francais.

Only the four semi-finalists in the French championship qualify for next season's European Cup and Toulouse, third in their pool behind Stade Francais and Biarritz, face Wasps on Sunday and then tackle Biarritz in the championships three days later.

"It looks as if we will have to beat Wasps to qualify for Europe next season," Noves said. "But the mark of a great side is picking yourself up after a defeat."

Noves was hoping Irish referee Alain Rolland kept a close eye on the Wasps defensive line.

"Their defence is quick to move up, often at the limit off-side," he said.

"They're a good, all-round side who develop good momentum. They're always looking to move the ball. They're the sort of side I like," he added.

Novrs played all his rugby for Toulouse, winning seven caps on the wing between 1977 and 1979 and twice winning a French champions' medal in 1985 and 1986.

He took over as coach from Pierre Villepreux and Jean-Claude Skrela in 1993 and has led his side to victory in eight finals, two in the European Cup, in 1996 and 2003, and six in the French Championship, in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2001.

He believes this big-match experience could be a key. "Wasps are clearly favourites but we can go into the match with no pressure on our shoulders," he said.

Lawrence Dallaglio's Wasps, in the final for the first time, have also qualified for the English Premiership final against Bath on May 29.

But history shows they know how to handle tough assignements. They wiped Toulouse out 77-17 in a European Cup match in France in 1996.

Wasps received a major boost when centre Fraser Waters was declared fit for Sunday's showdown.

Waters limped off with a hamstring injury during last weekend's Premiership play-off victory over Northampton.

He was rated only a 50-50 prospect by Wasps rugby director Warren Gatland earlier this week, but he trained fully on Saturday and will take his place in midfield alongside Stuart Abbott.

Once Waters was given the green light, it enabled Gatland to name an unchanged team from the one which crushed Northampton 57-20 five days ago.

"It is a big plus that he was able to train fully today. It is a big lift for us all," said Dallaglio.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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