News24

Giteau and Wilko hold key

2011-12-02 18:10

Toulon - Australia's Matt Giteau believes he and Jonny Wilkinson could hold the key to Toulon's French Top 14 campaign and also prove a point to Wallabies coach Robbie Dean.

Giteau, who is a veteran of 92 internationals but was left out of Dean's World Cup squad, made his debut in France last weekend, coming on as a second-half replacement in the 22-22 draw at Castres.

Saturday sees a different challenge as Toulon travel to league leaders Toulouse, but Giteau insisted he is relishing the opportunity even if he starts at centre rather than his preferred fly-half spot which is very much Wilkinson's territory.

"I was nervous last week," admitted Giteau. "I was much more anxious than usual."

That's where Wilkinson's cool head will be a useful weapon.

"Working with him is very easy. He guides things and that's not a problem for me. I had heard that he was always the first one in for training and the last to leave.

"He's the most professional player around. What he does is exceptional."

On Saturday, the 29-year-old will play alongside Fiji's Gabiriele Lovobalavu at centre with coach Bernard Laporte preferring to keep the French-speaking Wilkinson in the key fly-half position.

"For the time being, we prefer to start him at centre; it's vital that he masters the language better so he'll be able to communicate," said Laporte.

Saturday will also see former Brumbies star Giteau come up against a couple of familiar faces from his Super 15 days in compatriot Luke Burgess and former All Black Luke McAlister.

"I want to show them that I have signed for a better club than them," he smiled.

Giteau and Wilkinson are expected to form an impressive partnership at Toulon.

"You'd have to be an idiot not to put Jonny and Matt together," said Toulon backs coach Pierre Mignoni.

Toulouse have a host of injury problems ahead of the game with prop Census Johnston, lock Romain Millo-Chluski and back row forward Yannick Nyanga all missing training this week.

The injuries have left forwards coach Yannick Bru, whose side also face a European Cup double-header against Harlequins later this month, wondering when his squad will catch a break.

"We have been getting used to this since the start of the season," said Bru, who has also been without props Daan Human and Gurthro Steenkamp.

The Stade de France is the venue for the mouth-watering derby between Stade Francais and Racing-Metro, the oldest rivalry in the French game.

However, whether or not it is the most-fiercely contested is open to question.

"When I was young, it was always a high-tension affair," said Stade prop Rabah Slimani. "Now it is not the same thing."

Racing-Metro winger Julien Saubade, who was born in the Basque country, insists the passion is greater in the south of the country.

"If you compare it with Bayonne v Biarritz, the local fervour is not the same. There, the fans wait all year for that match. They are the two games they can't afford to miss. For us there is not the same pressure."

Fixtures (kick-offs GMT)

Friday

Bordeaux v Brive (1945)

Saturday

Toulouse v Toulon (1305), Clermont v Castres (1315), Stade Francais v Racing-Metro (1515)

Sunday

Lyon v Perpignan (1400), Agen v Bayonne (1400), Biarritz v Montpellier (1605)

AFP