Top 14 - Game of the Week
Wilkinson set for Toulon bow
August 12, 2009
Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson lines up a shot at goal, Toulon v Brumbies, Pre-season friendly, Stade Mayol, Toulon, France, August 6, 2009
Jonny Wilkinson made his latest return during Toulon's pre-season campaign © Getty Images

Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson is set for his long-awaited Top 14 bow on Friday night when his side play host to Stade Francais in the season opener.

The England international is one of many former Guinness Premiership and Magners League stars in line to start at a sold out Stade Mayol after both clubs raided their European neighbours in the off-season.

Toulon managed to stave off relegation last season having flirted with an immediate return to Pro D2 but a re-vamped squad ensures renewed confidence in the rugby-mad city. Meanwhile, perennial title challengers Stade were edged out by eventual champions Perpignan in last season's semi-finals and enter this campaign as one of the favourites to lay claim to the Bouclier de Brennus.

Alongside Wilkinson in Toulon's squad for the game are fellow recruits Tom May, who also made the switch from Newcastle in the summer, former Saracens lock Kris Chesney, ex-Sale back-row Juan Martin Fernandez-Lobbe and hooker Sébastien Bruno as well as prop Timmy Ryan who joined from Munster.

Coach Phillippe Saint-Andre, another high-profile recruit lured by the charms of club president Mourad Boudjellal, also has former Cardiff Blues centre Jamie Robinson and ex-Sale fullback Rory Lamont at his disposal as his side look to make a winning start to their campaign. However, the home side will be without captain and talisman Joe van Niekerk and strong-running centre Sonny Bill Williams.

Stade Francais coach Ewen McKenzie was also busy in the alarmingly short eight-week off-season, backed by the equally formidable financial clout of president Max Guazzini. His chequebook brought England internationals and former Wasps stars James Haskell and Tom Palmer to the French capital along with Leicester scrum-half Julien Dupuy.

McKenzie's options have been limited by the enforced eight-week rest imposed on his large international contingent. As a result fly-half Lionel Beauxis, hooker Dimitri Szarzewski, prop Sylvain Marconnet, lock Pascal Pape and winger Julien Arias will miss out due to their appearance against Australia on June 27.

Italian duo Mauro and Mirco Bergamasco will also miss out having turned out for the Azzurri against New Zealand the same day. Scotland forward Simon Taylor is another recent casualty and is set for six weeks on the sidelines after breaking his foot.

Stay tuned for the confirmed line-ups for Friday night's game.

Toulon squad:

Forwards: Fotunuupule Auelua, Sébastien Bruno, Kristian Chesney, Jawad Djoudi, Laurent Emmanuelli, Juan-Martin Fernandez-Lobbe, Davit Kubriashvili, Tonga Lea'aetoa, Olivier Missoup, Timothy Ryan, Dewald Senekal, Ross Skeate, Thomas Sourice, Jocelino Suta, Saimone Taumoepeau

Backs: Sébastien Fauque, Matt Henjak, Mafileo Kefu, Rory Lamont, Christian Loamanu, Gabirieli Lovobalavu, Clément Marienval, Tom May, Pierre Mignoni, Jamie Robinson, Sinoti Sinoti, Jonny Wilkinson

Stade Francais squad:

Forwards: Mathieu Blin, Laurent Sempéré, Benjamin Kayser, David Attoub, Rayno Gerber, Rodrigo Roncero, Rabah Slimani, Alexandre Flanquart, Tom Palmer, Arnaud Marchois, James Haskell, Romain Dibel, Pierre Rabadan, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Hugues Briatte

Backs: Benjamin Tardy, Julien Dupuy, Noel Herman Oelschig, Brian Liebenberg, Ignacio Mieres, Geoffrey Messina, Guillaume Bousses, Mark Gasnier, Romain Raine, Djibril Camara

Follow this season's action LIVE on ESPN and ESPN Scrum including exclusive coverage of Toulon v Stade Francais on Friday night


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