Only one side stands alone having won five European Cups. Toulouse over the last decade have been playing with four stars on their shirts, but now they are in a league on their own. Simply the greatest European side ever! Their fifth title was a long time coming with only Maxime Medard left from the great Toulouse side which beat Biarritz in the Stade de France in 2010. The scary thing about this new Toulouse is that they are young, hungry and have only just started winning. Are we facing another decade of Toulouse domination?
Alastair Telfer reviews their 2020/1 European season.
The previous decade of Toulouse domination came from 2000–10. Le Stade reached the final five times and won the competition on three of those occasions. In the 2000’s Toulouse set the benchmark to become European champions. In this same period, the French national team won five Six Nations titles including three Grand Slams. The core of the success for the national team came at the domestic level with the likes of Vincent Clerc, Thierry Dusautoir, Yannick Jauzion and William Servatall heavily involved both for France and Toulouse.
Sport runs in cycles and once these players surpassed their peak, both the France national side and Toulouse went into some dark years. Following this was project rebuild and now Toulouse are reaping the benefits. Relating back to the core values of what made Toulouse great – investing in young French talent.
The average age of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack is 23! Yes, 23 years of age. Ntamack himself has only just turned 22 and both are integral to making this Toulouse team tick. More young French talent is out wide with Matthis Lebel being the standout performer on the wing at only 22. In the pack, Selevasio Tolofua is only 23 and abrasive hooker Julien Marchand has just turned 26 this month. This shows the core of the Toulouse team stems from young French talent; which will only getter better with age and experience. It is very similar to the 2003 Heineken Cup Final when and Vincent Clerc, Yannick Jauzion and William Servat all played in the victory over Perpignan. Before being experienced heads the 2010 win!
Although, the young French core is essential for success; this current Toulouse team is sprinkled with world-class foreign players taking the side to new levels. The obvious candidate is Cheslin Kolbe but New Zealander Pita Ahki in the centre has proven to be an unsung hero alongside fellow All Black Charlie Faumuina. The New Zealand trio is then completed with Jerome Kaino, who at 38 brought all his Rugby World Cup-winning experience to Southern France. These players simply do not grow on trees. Toulouse’s recruitment team, therefore, is key to driving this team back to the summit of European Rugby. Toulouse are clever in only recruiting players who fit their culture. This team has the perfect balance between academy graduates and world-class international stars.
This Seasons Competition
The 2020/21 Heineken Champions Cup proved to be one of Toulouse’s most impressive triumphs. Wins away at Ulster, Munster, Clermont and Bordeaux showed this side doesn’t need home comfort to progress in Europe. Although there were no fans at these games, the calibre of teams Toulouse put away at relative ease was impressive. The one that stands out is when they scored 40 points at Thomand Park. Not many do that in European knock-out rugby, regardless of whether there are fans. The wins themselves were through a mixture of styles. Toulouse began by winning games via their X-Factor players and exciting brand of rugby. However, they also showed they can win it up-front and grind out wins through the boot of Ntamack.
The final itself was won via the 100% boot of Ntamack. Compared to Ihaia West who missed two penalties and a conversion, Ntamack showed his counterpart how it’s done. Although the headlines revolve around the first red card in a European Cup Final, Toulouse were impressive in how they ground La Rochelle down and eventually exploited the extra man. Could La Rochelle have won with 15 men? Potentially. But it is a harsh lesson this La Rochelle side must learn from.
Toulouse on the other hand have been through their learning cycle. They simply did not turn up in the semi-finals away at Exeter and Leinster in years gone by. Yet, this side took on these learnings going away again in the later rounds, using this experience to overturn some impressive sides.
Toulouse will now be eyeing up their sixth star next year. The European Cup is like a domino effect. Leinster and Saracens are recent examples of teams who have won consecutive titles. If that is the case, by 2030 Toulouse might need to find a new place to put the stars on their jersey. This side is only going to get better, and will look to emulate a decade of Toulouse domination!
Embed from Getty Images