Michalak aims for glorious swansong at former club's expense

by Barnaby CHESTERMAN
Frederic Michalak will be seeking glory against a former team when Lyon visit Toulon in the Top 14 playoffs

Frederic Michalak returns to his old stomping ground on Friday bidding to prolong his career and end Toulon's hopes of a seventh straight Top 14 semi-final appearance.

The Lyon half-back was instrumental in Toulon's most glorious era, helping them win three straight European Champions Cup titles from 2013-15.

He also won the 2014 Top 14 title with Toulon, having twice previously claimed it with Toulouse, but will now try to mastermind his former employers' quarter-final downfall at the Stade Mayol, where he spent four years as a fan favourite.

Michalak is one of 11 former Toulon players among the Lyon contingent, including former scrum-half and current coach Pierre Mignoni.

Six of those are in the starting XV, although Michalak must content himself with a place on the bench.

England international full-back Delon Armitage, who is suspended, and injured flanker Virgile Bruni miss out on homecomings but Lyon will nonetheless be boosted by several players to have won domestic and continental honours with Toulon.

Like Michalak, New Zealand international wing Rudi Wulf won three European crowns in the red shirt, while scrum-half Jonathan Pelissie, wing Alexis Palisson, prop Alexandre Menini and hooker Mickael Ivaldi were on the Toulon books at some point during those years.

Lyon are obviously underdogs on Friday having qualified for the post-season for the first time in the professional era.

In fact, the club was second-division champions three times in the last seven years and last season was the first time they managed to avoid an immediate return to the lower tier.

But boosted by a solid recruitment policy, Lyon were long-time leaders this season.

Their form fell away and they had to scrap to reach the play-offs.

Even so, Michalak said earlier this month that they had no intention of simply making up the numbers.

"We always hope to do our best. My aim is to win things, I've always played to win since I was a kid," he said.

"If I've committed to this competition with Lyon, it's to win it! Taking part is not what interests me, personally."

- Making history -

Although he's a substitute, Mignoni believes Michalak will have an important role to play.

"He came here to make history with this club and take it to the highest level," he said.

Lyon have their work cut out against a side boasting numerous international stars such as Argentine back row Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, New Zealand great Ma'a Nonu, South African forwards Duane Vermeulen, Juandre Kruger and Marcel van der Merwe, and France captain Guilhem Guirado.

Toulon have been in fine form recently, thrashing Clermont 49-0, beating table-toppers Montpellier 32-17 and trouncing Castres 59-13.

And they will be keen to make up for their narrow 20-19 European Cup quarter-final exit to Munster.

On Saturday, record 19-time French champions Toulouse host Castres just a year after finishing one place above the relegation zone.

Toulouse briefly looked capable of challenging Racing 92 for second place and a bye straight into the Top 14 semi-finals before settling for third in the regular season table.

However, they lost 41-31 at home to Castres in December and will be wary of opponents who have been blowing hot and cold all season.

The winners of the Toulon-Lyon clash will face Montpellier in the semi-finals where Racing will take on either Toulouse or Castres.

Fixtures:

Friday (1900 GMT)

Toulon v Lyon

Saturday (1415 GMT)

Toulouse v Castres

Frederic Michalak will be seeking glory against a former team when Lyon visit Toulon in the Top 14 playoffs.