2023 Challenge Cup Final: Sergio Parisse's Last Club Match as Toulon take on Glasgow Warriors - Ruck

2023 Challenge Cup Final: Sergio Parisse’s Last Club Match as Toulon take on Glasgow Warriors

The EPCR Challenge Cup will be heading to Scotland or France, as the Glasgow Warriors and Toulon are set to battle it out in the final tonight. Dublin’s Aviva Stadium is the venue, with both sides eager to lift the Challenge Cup for the first time in their respective histories.

Montpellier Captain’s Run, Twickenham, London, England 20/5/2021 A view of the Challenge Cup Trophy Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan/PPAUK

The Aviva Stadium will play host to Glasgow Warriors first-ever European final. The competition’s only two unbeaten sides face off tonight, and the Scottish side is packed with 18 internationally capped players.

The 2022/23 Challenge Cup’s leading try-scorer prop Johnny Matthews, is selected amongst the replacements for Glasgow Warriors. He joins Nathan McBeth and Simon Berghan as the front-row replacements. Having recently made his 100th appearance for Glasgow last time out, Richie Gray will begin the final on the bench. Lewis Bean pulls on the number 20 shirt for his final appearance for the club.

https://twitter.com/GlasgowWarriors/status/1659156471601397761

Speaking to the official Glasgow Warriors website, Head Coach Franco Smith hopes to bring the Warriors their first trophy since 2015 in his first season with the club. He said; “This week’s training has been highly competitive, with every player putting their hand up for selection and pushing each other forward.

“Toulon will provide a stern test, and they are a team that know how to play in finals rugby.

“We’re excited for the challenge that lies in wait and we know we need to be at our best in Dublin tomorrow night.”

This match will witness the final farewell of an all-time great, as Italian back-rower Sergio Parisse will end his career in Dublin. Parisse hopes to end on a high, and he has an impressive Toulon squad in support. After missing out on the Challenge Cup trophy last year, Parisse has one-last shot at the title before hanging up his boots.

“I am obsessed with rugby,” he told the Rugby Union Weekly podcast. “You cannot go on for such a long time if you don’t love what you do.

“When I take my bag to go to the club and get in the car, I just go and hope the moment never ends. Now the moment arrives and I am just trying to enjoy every single moment, and I am really happy to have the opportunity again to play a cup final with Toulon. For me, it is a joy, it is an opportunity and it is a privilege.

“But it is a team sport and it is not about individuals. A final is a 50/50 game. Glasgow are a good team, they deserve to be in the final and in a final it doesn’t matter if you play good rugby or not – you must win.”

Former Glasgow lock Brian Alainu’uese and Les Bleus hard-hitter Charles Ollivon line up with the veteran Italian. Wales fly-half Dan Bigger will lead the backs from fly half. Flying French winger Gabin Villiere and Springboks World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe are set to bolster the Toulon attack. Jiuta Wainiqolo completes the back-three, with hopes of marking his 50th Toulon appearance with a piece of silverware.

ROAD TO THE FINAL

Toulon have been here before, four times in fact. The French side have been runners-up in the EPCR Challenge Cup on four separate occasions, most recently in the 2020/21 final, which saw them defeated 30-12 by Top 14 rivals Lyon. Toulon have also suffered final defeats to Bristol Bears in 2020, Biarritz in 2012 and Cardiff Blues in 2010.

Franck Azema’s side will be hoping for ‘fifth time lucky’ tonight, when the Challenge Cup opens the weekend’s European rugby action ahead of the Heineken Champions Cup Final on Saturday. Toulon topped Group A, during the Challenge Cup’s first round stage, as they secured home and away wins over Bath and Zebre Parma.

The Pool Standings for Group A – Image Credit: EPCR Challenge Cup

Toulon then took to knock-out rugby with great aplomb, eliminating South African outfit Toyota Cheetahs, Lyon and finally Benetton Treviso, for a place in the final. Glasgow performed in similar fettle to Toulon, and finished right-behind them, as Group A runners-up.

Glasgow also secured two Group stage wins over Bath, as well as back-to-back triumphs against Perpignan. The West Country club were handed a tough break for the 2022/23 Challenge Cup, and were swiftly eliminated by the pair of this season’s finalists.

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Glasgow too pressed on to the knock-out stages, with a road to the final including a 73-33 slaying of the Dragons. The Warriors then dispatched the final South African club side from the competition, as they eliminated the Emirates Lions in the quarter-finals. Then Glasgow demonstrated their dominance over their URC opponents, by dumping the Scarlets out in the final four.

Glasgow Warriors have never won a piece of European rugby silverware, with their trophy cabinet solely consisting of league titles. However, this in no way takes away from the threat they bring, as the Warriors are a definitly in form side, as they progress to the play offs of the United Rugby Championship.

The Glory Days: Toulon win the Champions Cup

Toulon bring with the the knowledge of how to win in a European final, with the glory days of three back-to-back Heineken Champions Cups from 2013 to 2015 filling the French side with confidence. It is certainly shaping up to be a thrilling conclusion to this year’s EPCR Challenge Cup competition, with the action kicking off at 8pm on Friday 19th May.