Heineken Cup: Stuart Barnes looks at Toulouse v Saracens clash
Last Updated: 10/01/14 1:23pm
James Gemmell, Stuart Barnes and Rory Lawson preview a packed weekend of Heineken Cup action on Sky Sports.
Sky Sports expert Stuart Barnes believes whoever wins between Toulouse and Saracens on Sunday can be classed as serious contenders to lift the Heineken Cup.
Toulouse have won the title on four occasions, however their last success came in 2010 - while they were stunned at home by Connacht in the pool stages this season.
Saracens, on the other hand, have reached the semi-finals on just two occasions but they are enjoying a stellar campaign that has seen them top the Aviva Premiership with 11 wins from 12 matches.
And although there is still a long way to go before any side will be celebrating on the turf at the Millennium Stadium in May, Barnes feels the eventual champions could emerge from a blockbusting clash at Stade Ernest Wallon.
"You have to go to Toulouse versus Saracens," Barnes told Sky Sports.
"It looks as if both of these teams are likely to go through but the team that wins the match in Toulouse is likely to be a home quarter-finalist and with the quality teams have that makes them real contenders for the title. It is a massive game."
Toulouse came out on top of the opening clash between the two sides when they registered a 17-16 victory at Wembley.
However Saracens had led 13-7 at half-time and Barnes claims that they will have stop the French giants from controlling the tempo of the game if they are to succeed.
"Saracens, in the past, have always thought themselves as the English masters of dictating the pace of the game," he said.
"Toulouse, despite all the hyperbole, love to play a fairly pedestrian style of rugby. They have this fantastic catch and drive in the lineout, they have got a monstrous scrum and they have depth coming off the bench, so the slower they can keep, the more they can control it.
"They have this little off-loading game. We saw Gillian Galan play brilliantly but Picamoles is back now and he does the same.
"If Toulouse can control the pace of the game, mostly slow, mostly adagio, every now and again they will put the squeeze on Saracens. If Farrell gets a loose kick, then you see that brilliant counterattack with people Hosea Gear and Maxime Medard. But it is slow, slow, slow then an error and they pounce then.
"I think if you can play at pace against them for 80 minutes you can really test the bench of Toulouse and their fitness."
Former Scotland international Rory Lawson believes Saracens have learned from that loss and will go into the game full of confidence.
"I actually think Saracens have taken their game on to a new level over the last couple of months since that game," he added.
"They are playing an off-loading game and playing with a bit of ambition and I think they have got to look to move the Toulouse defence around on Sunday as ultimately they suffocated Saracens at Wembley and they played the game at the tempo they wanted.
"When you have a big old pack, like Toulouse have, that reaps the dividends at the end."