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Furlong and Lowe fit for European showdown in Marseille

James Lowe

All eyes will be on Marseille this weekend as the battle for European glory comes to a head in the Heineken Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup.

France’s Grand Slam success has translated into the domestic game as three Top 14 teams have reached the European showpiece events along with Irish province Leinster.

Lyon face European royalty in the EPCR Challenge Cup final on Friday night, with three-time Heineken Champions Cup winners Toulon their opponents at Stade Vélodrome.

That will be followed by Saturday’s main event as four-time champions Leinster attempt to win a fifth star against last season’s runners-up, Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle.

LOWE AND FURLONG FIT FOR FINAL

Leinster have been handed a huge boost ahead of their showdown with La Rochelle on Saturday, with Ireland internationals Tadhg Furlong and James Lowe both fit to start.

They are named as part of an unchanged side from Leinster’s semi-final triumph over Toulouse, with Johnny Sexton captaining the Irish outfit alongside Jamison Gibson-Park.

Grand Slam Defining Moment: O’Gara kicks Ireland to historic title

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Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw also start in a backline bursting with international talent, while the pack looks just as formidable.

Furlong will join Ireland teammates Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter in the front row, with James Ryan, Caelan Doris, Josh Van der Flier and Jack Conan also starting.

Josh van der Flier celebrates scoring their third try with Jamison-Gibson Park and Johnny Sexton 19/3/2022

But they will need to be at their very best against a monstrous La Rochelle pack, with Australian lock Will Skelton starting in the second row alongside Thomas Lavault.

Gregory Alldritt, one of the stars of France’s clean sweep in the Guinness Six Nations, leads O’Gara’s men from No.8 while Uini Atonio will lock horns with Porter.

La Rochelle are also able to call on international class in their backline, with Brice Dulin and Jonathan Danty two key players to look out for if the French side win the physical battle.

LEINSTER RUGBY: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Jimmy O’Brien, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. James Lowe, 10. Johnny Sexton (c), 9. Jamison Gibson-Park, 1. Andrew Porter, 2. Ronan Kelleher, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Ross Molony, 5. James Ryan, 6. Caelan Doris, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan.

Replacements: 16. Dan Sheehan, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Michael Ala’alatoa, 19. Joe McCarthy, 20. Rhys Ruddock, 21. Luke McGrath, 22. Ross Byrne, 23. Ciaran Frawley,

LA ROCHELLE: 15. Brice Dulin, 14. Dillyn Leyds, 13. Jérémy Sinzelle, 12. Jonathan Danty, 11. Raymond Rhule, 10. Ihaia West, 9. Thomas Berjon, 1. Dany Priso, 2. Pierre Bourgarit, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Thomas Lavault, 5. Will Skelton, 6. Wiaan Liebenberg, 7. Matthias Haddad, 8. Grégory Alldritt (c).

Replacements: 16. Facundo Bosch, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Joel Sclavi, 19. Romain Sazy, 20. Remi Bourdeau, 21. Arthur Retiere, 22. Levani Botia, 23. Jules Favre

VILLIERE HEADLINES STRONG TOULON

Lyon will be contesting their first European final on Friday night but they face a Toulon team littered with star names as they attempt to make history in Marseille.

Gabin Villière was sensational throughout France’s Guinness Six Nations campaign, with the winger providing attacking threat and defensive stability to the champions.

He became the first Frenchman to score a hat-trick in the Championship since Vincent Clerc in 2008 in the opening match against Italy in Round 1 before also impressing against Ireland.

And the 26-year-old could be the key man once again in the EPCR Challenge Cup showpiece, taking his place on the opposite wing to fearsome South African teammate Cheslin Kolbe.

Gabin Villière standout

French internationals Louis Carbonel and Baptiste Serin form the half-back pairing for Toulon while Charles Ollivon and Italy legend Sergio Parisse are in the back row.

Dylan Cretin will look to combat the experience of Ollivon and Parisse for Lyon, along with a pack that also includes the likes of French internationals Demba Bamba and Romain Taofifenua.

Lyon have been beaten by Toulon each time they have met in the competition but Toulon have reached the final of Europe’s second tier competition three times and never won.

LYON: 15. Toby Arnold, 14. Josua Tuisova, 13. Pierre-Louis Barassi, 12. Charlie Ngatai, 11. Davit Niniashvili, 10. Leo Berdeu, 9. Baptiste Couilloud, 1. Sébastien Taofifenua, 2. Guillaume Marchand, 3. Demba Bamba, 4. Joel Kpoku, 5. Romain Taofifenua, 6. Dylan Cretin, 7. Patrick Sobela, 8. Jordan Taufua (c).

Replacements: 16. Mickael Ivaldi, 17. Hamza Kaabèche, 18. Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19. Felix Lambey, 20. Loann Goujon, 21. Jean-Marc Doussain, 22. Colby Fainga’a, 23. Xavier Mignot,

RC TOULON: 15. Aymeric Luc, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Julien Heriteau, 12. Duncan Paia’aua, 11. Gabin Villière, 10. Louis Carbonel, 9. Baptiste Serin, 1. Jean Baptiste Gros, 2. Christopher Tolofua, 3. Beka Gigashvili, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Brian Alainu’uese, 6. Cornell Du Preez, 7. Charles Ollivon (c), 8. Sergio Parisse.

Replacements: 16. Anthony Etrillard, 17. Bruce Devaux, 18. Emerick Setiano, 19. Swan Rebbadj, 20. Mathieu Smaili, 21. Julien Blanc, 22. Jiuta Naqoli Wainiqolo, 23. Facundo Isa