Doff your cap to French two

Two teams from the most free-spending league in the rugby world meet to contest Europe's ultimate club prize today.

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Two teams from the most free-spending league in the rugby world meet to contest Europe's ultimate club prize today. Meanwhile, at the other end of their domestic division, a club that overreached their financial means have been relegated after entering administration, and are now frantically trying to balance the books to stave off extinction.

What would Michael Platini, the president of Uefa, European football's governing body, have to say about that? It has not taken long for professional rugby to look like football. While today's Heineken Cup final in Paris between Toulouse and Biarritz - the Chelsea and Manchester United of French rugby - points to a league in rude health, everything that glistens in France is not necessarily gold. "If I was still the chairman of the national league, I would yell a huge cock-a-doodle-do," Serge Blanco, the former France great and now Biarritz president, was quoted as saying.

If Toulon beat Cardiff in the Challenge Cup final tomorrow, it will provide France with a cleansweep of European trophies, so there is, indeed, much to celebrate. The overwhelming success of French clubs this season speaks much of their overwhelming financial clout. In some cases, however, their ambitions have outweighed the bank balances. For example, Stade Francais, the Paris giants who have always been among the biggest players in the transfer market, have been summoned before the Top 14's financial watchdog to explain a substantial budget shortfall.

Stade's players recently agreed to a three per cent pay cut for next season in order to avoid a similar fate to that suffered by Montauban, who were handed a mandatory relegation from the French top division after being forced into administration by spiralling costs. Platini, who has been a staunch critic of the "big liberalism" which has let English Premier League football clubs rack up massive debts, while still competing at the top end of the game, might have counselled against overspending. Or said "cock-a-doodle-don't."

At least Biarritz have been rewarded for their outlay with a place in the final against Toulouse, the most-successful side in Heineken Cup history. However, having finished a disappointing seventh in the Top 14, they are looking to recruit again, and are reportedly in talks with Johnathan Thurston, the Australian rugby league half-back, over a change of code and country. How they plan to shoehorn his reported ?775,000 (Dh3.5m) per year wages into the French pay scale, which has salaries capped at a collective ?8m (Dh36.8m) remains to be seen. In England, the salary cap lies at just £4m (Dh21m) - which some claim is a reason for the absence of Guinness Premiership sides at the business end of the Heineken Cup.

While British and Irish clubs will be looking on in Paris with envy, at least some English players will be able to enjoy the party. Ayoola Erinle, Iain Balshaw and Magnus Lund may not feature in the thinking of Martin Johnson, the England manager, but all have a chance of a Heineken Cup winners' medal with Biarritz in Paris. Erinle, who played in last year's final for Leicester in their 16-19 defeat by Leinster, was on the winning side with Wasps in the 2007 final against the Tigers.

Erinle and co have their work cut out, however. Biarritz start as underdogs against a Toulouse side that are going for their fourth title in their sixth Heineken Cup final. * Compiled by Paul Radley