European Rugby Champions Cup
Toulon v Clermont: tale of two Aussie playmakers
Sam Bruce
May 1, 2015
Matt Giteau (R) is hunting a third straight European crown with Toulon © Getty Images

The European Rugby Champions Cup final is the jewel in the club crown, a match that will pit French clubs Toulon and Clermont against each other for a second time in three years.

Toulon have become arguably the most recognisable name in the rugby world, perhaps even the "greatest ever club side", thanks largely to the seemingly endless cheque-book of enigmatic owner Mourad Boudjellal and the constant array of international stars who find their way to the south of France. Whether Quade Cooper joins that list remains to be seen. Clermont, on the other hand, have earned themselves a reputation as perennial contenders, but one without the silverware their consistency probably should have secured. While their operating approaches and recent additions to the trophy cabinet are considerably different, the two clubs share one key trait - an Australian playmaker on their books.

Matt Giteau needs no introduction to Australian rugby fans; just like Toulon, he has become a household rugby name across the globe. But on the other side of coin sits Brock James, a man far less familiar to Aussie fans but one who's been perfectly in tune with the Clermont ethos for the better part of a decade.

But to Giteau, first, and the sudden meaning the final has assumed amid the Australian Rugby Union's change in policy regarding the Test selection of overseas-based players. The ARU's decision to make Giteau, as well as Toulon team-mate Drew Mitchell and veteran No.7 George Smith, eligible for the Wallabies by order of 60 or more Test caps and seven years Super Rugby service has been widely hailed across Australia.

Giteau himself made the decision to join Toulon after falling out of favour with former coach Robbie Deans, but the 92-Test veteran has rocketed right back into contention for a place at Rugby World Cup 2015. Michael Cheika, having got his weekend Waratahs responsibilities out of the way on Friday night, will undoubtedly be one keen spectator.

The former Brumbies and Force back tweeted his delight after learning of the ARU's change of heart last week but quickly qualified it with words: "form must warrant selection". What better place to prove your worth than on Europe's biggest stage? To be fair to Giteau, he's already done just that. The reigning European Player of the Year helped Toulon to back-to-back Heineken Cup crowns, leading legendary England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson - a former team-mate of Giteau's in France - to ponder how the Wallabies ever let him go.

Clermont Auvergne fly-half Brock James celebrates kicking the winning penalty against Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Stade Marcel Michelin, Clermont-Ferrand, France, November 10, 2012
Brock James has forged a successful career in France © Getty Images

James, on the other hand, was never really in Australia's clutches to begin with. After forging a successful club career with Sydney University, James endured mixed stints with both Queensland Reds and Western Force. It wasn't until his move to Clermont in 2006 that the Geelong-born playmaker's career really took off. And he hasn't looked back since.

The 33-year-old has been one of the Top 14's most consistent performers over the past 10 years, having topped the point-scoring charts in his first two years in Clermont. His role has changed a little in recent times as the French club has expanded its playmaking roster yet James was there just a fortnight ago, as noted by ESPN's Tom Hamilton, for the decisive chip-kick in the semi-final victory over Saracens in St Etienne.

Missing exactly 60 Test caps for the Wallabies, James will be nothing more than just an "Aussie expat" in a French side to Cheika, and any other Australian, for that matter, watching the final. But it is hard to fathom what a win will mean for the 33-year-old. James has travelled the ups and downs of Clermont's amazing rugby ride, the three consecutive Top 14 final defeats to the eventual Holy Grail in 2010, the 77 straight wins at home to the heartbreak of the one-point Heineken Cup final loss of 2013. If Giteau is everything bright and shiny about Toulon, then James typifies what it means to support Clermont.

The flash and flair of Giteau against the composure and control of James; the Rugby Champions Cup final may seem like a world away but it's impossible to overlook its unique Australian feel.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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