Belfast Telegraph

Toulon still look strong against Ulster despite flu outbreak

By Michael Sadlier

It seems that Toulon just might not be feeling at their finest when it comes to Saturday afternoon's crunch encounter with Ulster.

According to reports, an outbreak of flu in the French club's camp has apparently resulted in many of their star players having to lie low this week instead of putting in their time on the training paddock ahead of the Pool Three leaders' final home game of the qualifying stages.

It seems their backline took the brunt of the bug and only Drew Mitchell managed to stay healthy with the rest of the reigning European champions' backline having to skip training as they either recovered or were immunised.

Nevertheless, the early release of the Toulon matchday squad includes the usual array of talent with Bryan Habana, Leigh Halfpenny, Matt Giteau, Maxime Mermoz, Mathieu Bastareaud, Sebastian Tillous-Borde and Rudi Wulf all having at least been named though their exact state of health seems to be unknown.

The recently returned Juan Martin Hernandez is not involved as he is not registered for Europe.

Up front, they have Steffon Armitage, Juan Smith, Martin Castrogiovanni, Carl Hayman and Ali Williams all named in a typically powerful looking pack.

Meanwhile, former All Black and World Cup winner Williams has announced his retirement from the game at the end of the season.

The 33-year-old has been with the French giants since 2013 and played a central role in last season's Top 14 and Heineken Cup double. He will join Hayman who has already announced that he is stepping down while Botha and Chris Masoe are also departing.

"I've been playing for 15 years, it's time to step aside. I want to finish well in going all the way in both competitions with Toulon," Williams said.

Toulon have had five players named in France's 31-man squad for the Six Nations. Bastareaud, Tillous-Borde, Romain Taofifenua, Guilhem Guirado and Alexandre Menini have all been included.

Toulon squad: Backs: S Tillous-Borde, N Sanchez, E Escande, R Wulf, M Bastareaud, M Mermoz, D Mitchell, L Halfpenny, B Habana, M Giteau. Forwards: X Chiocci, J-C Orioli, G Guirado, C Hayman, M Castrogiovanni, F Freisa, J Suta, R Taofifenua, A Williams, M Gorgodze, C Masoe, J Smith, S Armitage.

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