Premiership Rugby

Is Toulouse The Favorite For This Year's Heineken Champions Cup?

Is Toulouse The Favorite For This Year's Heineken Champions Cup?

As the pool stage at the Heineken Champions Cup draws to a close, attention now turns to the knockouts and the favorites lining up for the Round of 16.

Jan 31, 2023 by RugbyPass
Is Toulouse The Favorite For This Year's Heineken Champions Cup?

As the Champions Cup pool stage draws to a close, attention now turns to the knockouts and the favorites lining up for the Round of 16. 

While there are plenty of teams in with a shot of winning it all, there are only a select few that have the record and past credentials to warrant being named as one of the favorites.

Toulouse deserves that honor. 

After beating Munster 20-16 in a grueling and, at times, brutal contest Sunday afternoon, the French league leaders finished the group stages with an unbeaten record and the wind in their sails.

They’ve romped the Sale Sharks – who sit second place in the Premiership – twice, and they’ve shown considerable fight to squeak past their Irish opponents home and away.

Toulouse opened the scoring with a smart finish from Argentina winger Juan Cruz Mallia, who bounced off a flailing tackle, before finishing off in the corner. 

Two penalties from the ever-accurate Melvyn Jaminet cemented the host’s lead, but their advantage slimmed down, when John Hodnett charged over from close range to put the visitors on the board.

Joey Carbery missed the conversion but landed a penalty before the break to reduce the deficit to 11-8 in favor of the French side.

The Munster players started the second half with fire in their bellies and began exhibiting some delicious expansive rugby, picking apart the Toulouse defense with smart offloads and finely timed support lines.

They soon got their reward when Tadhg Beirne crossed the whitewash, after Hodnett had collected a droopy cross-field kick and ferried the ball in-field.

With the Irish province in front for the first time, the Stade Ernest Wallon silenced a little, but Toulouse, well-adept at handling high-pressure situations, remained focused on the task ahead and went on to steal the win, thanks to three further Jaminet penalties before the final whistle.

In truth, the stakes of the game were not sky high. Both sides already had progressed from Pool B prior to kickoff, but victory did give Toulouse a home tie in the last 16. Toulouse will welcome the Bulls, while Munster will head to South Africa to lock horns with the Sharks.

Toulouse is a juggernaut in this competition. They’ve won it five times and always are expected to venture into the latter stages of the tournament whenever they feature. This year is no different, especially with the depth of squad and the talent on offer throughout the ranks.

The Toulouse back line alone is a list of international titans, dripping in flair. The likes of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack need no introduction and provide unpredictable brilliance every time they grace the field.

But in their latest battle against Munster, all watching would have been reminded of the tenacity and power in the Toulouse forward pack. 

In the opening exchanges, they dominated the point of collision. In one sequence, they delivered three huge tackles in subsequent phases.

This ability to front up physically will be crucial when they face the Bulls, as the South Africans are renowned for the brute force of their forward pack.

Toulouse is well-versed in the knockout stages of this tournament, and this will work heavily in the team’s favor, as the Bulls will be making their very first appearance. However, the South Africans are here as disruptors and will care very little about Toulouse’s prior record, though they should be worried about the clinical style of their French counterparts.

Toulouse has a habit of entering the opposition 22, and three-quarters of the time, those entries lead to points.

Stifling them is incredibly hard, largely because they have two very dangerous points of attack. The first is the power of their pack, and the alternative is the magic of their playmakers in the backfield.

They’re like a hybrid of La Rochelle and Harlequins – perfectly balancing structured physicality in the midfield with unscripted innovation.

Of course, Toulouse is not the sole favorite. 

Perennial European winner Leinster, Premiership-leading Saracens and last season’s champion, La Rochelle, deserve their due.

La Rochelle and Leinster also finished the pool stage with an unbeaten record, while all four teams have won the Champions Cup once in the last five years.

Each has competition nouse, but few have the squad depth of Toulouse. That alone could be the clincher as the competition enters its latter stages. 

Written by Stefan Frost