Toulouse v Gloucester, Heineken Cup, November 13, 2011
Gloucester face French exam
ESPNscrum Staff
November 11, 2011
Toulouse fly-half Luke McAlister races away to score, Agen v Toulouse, Stade Armandie, Agen, France, September 23, 2011
Kiwi Luke McAlister has taken well to life in France © Getty Images

French Top 14 front-runners Toulouse begin their bid for a fifth European Cup crown against Gloucester at the Stade Ernest Wallon on Sunday.

Last season's Top 14 champions have started the new season strongly despite the absence of a host of international players during the Rugby World Cup, and head the French domestic table by a point from Clermont Auvergne. Central to their good start has been the form of former All Blacks playmaker Luke McAlister, who has taken on the fly-half duties with aplomb.

Toulouse' campaign last season was ended by eventual winners Leinster at the semi-final stage. And a strong showing will crystalise their reputation as one of the favourites for the title.

Gloucester have had a mixed start to the season domestically. Despite being fourth in the Aviva Premiership table they still have just two points more than Exeter Chiefs who are ninth.

Mike Tindall will again be the centre of attention after being dropped from the England's elite players squad and fined for his behaviour during the World Cup in New Zealand. Of course he's not the only Gloucester centre causing controversy off the pitch with Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu suspended for three weeks for his recent outburts.

Toulouse - Player to Watch: For so long McAlister has flitted across the backline from fly-half to outside centre, but he has really found his feet at No.10 for Toulouse. And going by his recent performances perhaps he should have been the understudy to Dan Carter for the All Blacks.

Toulouse - Team News: Toulouse are without France fullback Maxime Medard and so Clement Poitrenaud takes over while Yann David replaces Yannick Jauzion in the midfield. Census Johnston, Jean-Baptiste Poux and Gary Botha make up the Toulouse front row. Meanwhile Yannick Nyanga and Sylvain Nicolas come into the back row alongside No.8 Shaun Sowerby.

Gloucester - Player to Watch: While his more senior midfield colleagues have been the centre of attention in recent weeks, Henry Trinder has continued to underline his reputation as a real talent and possible long-term replacement for Tindall at outside centre for England.

Gloucester - Team News: Tindall moves to inside centre alongside Trinder in Gloucester's midfield with Fuimaono-Sapolu unavailable due to suspension. In the forwards Peter Buxton, who will skipper the side, returns to blindside flanker with Alasdair Strokosch moving to No.8.

Key Battle: Gloucester loose-head Nick Wood will go up against Samoan giants Census Johnston at tight-head for Toulouse in one of the vital confrontations in the fight for supremacy at the scrum.

Trivia: Toulouse and Gloucester have never met before.

Stats: Toulouse winger Vincent Clerc is the leading try scorer in the history of the tournament with 32 tries.

Quote Unquote:

"English teams like to hold the ball, build their rugby after more than five or six phases of play. It's up to us to be ready for a very different style of rugby. Gloucester, on paper, may be less attractive than that of Wasps, but it would be a mistake to take them lightly."
- Toulouse lock Roman Millo-Chluski

"They're probably the best side in European history. So, you have to go there and you have to and make sure your mindset is right. But the expectation on us is very low but, internally, we know that we have to be dogged and confident in ourselves and have a real go at them."
- Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath

Prediction: The French Champions to lay down an early marker with a convincing victory at home to Gloucester.

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