2023 Harlequin F.C. vs Stade Toulousain

FloRugby's Investec Champions Cup: Round 2 Game Of The Week

FloRugby's Investec Champions Cup: Round 2 Game Of The Week

We take a look at the game to watch in Round 2 of the Champions Cup.

Dec 15, 2023
FloRugby's Investec Champions Cup: Round 2 Game Of The Week

Round 2 of the Champions Cup has a lot to live up to following the blockbuster of an opening weekend to which we were treated.

Nonetheless, there are some huge matchups to come. 

Friday kicks off with a big clash between the Northampton Saints and Toulon, followed on Saturday by Leinster taking on the Sale Sharks.

La Rochelle will look to return to its winning ways when it faces the Stormers in South Africa, while a physical encounter looms in the southwest of England, as the Exeter Chiefs face Munster.

All these games will be worth a watch, but there’s one fixture that promises a little bit extra – Sunday’s monumental battle between Harlequins and Toulouse.

Both sides opened their Champions Cup campaigns with wins in Round 1, though it was Quins that had the tougher challenge.

Harlequins traveled to France to face Racing 92, which leads the Top 14 after nine rounds of action.

The frenetic, fast-paced attacking style the Parisians favor makes them a real threat, but in the end Harlequins, managed to nullify that with disciplined defense. 

The back row duo of Alex Dombrandt and Will Evans were phenomenal - the former pierced through the Racing line to score a pivotal try, while the latter made the crucial tackle that forced Racing out of possession with the clock in the red, all but ending the game.

Their involvement will be front and center once again, when Harlequins welcomes Toulouse to south London. Their job remit will be similar to what it was in Round 1 - slow the ball at the breakdown and match the physicality of their French foes.

Neither is an easy task, especially given the form Toulouse showed last weekend to completely demolish a shellshocked Cardiff. Anthony Jelonch and François Cros ran riot throughout, using their offloading game to unlock the Cardiff defense.

Stopping the flow of the Toulouse juggernaut will be pivotal for Harlequins, which looks to make it two wins on the trot against French opponents. 

However, the real battle will be played out in the halfbacks. 

Everyone knows the threat Antoine Dupont possesses - he’s the maverick with the golden touch who can make something out of nothing - but standing opposite him will be an equally electric scrum-half, Danny Care.

Care has a wealth of experience but thrives, much like Dupont, on off-the-cuff antics, whether it be a dart around the ruck, or a delicate kick-in behind.

Seeing them face off will be a joy to behold and also will determine which No. 10 comes out on top. In truth, the head-to-head at fly-half is the real clash everyone will want to see.

On the one side, you have Thomas Ramos, a man operating at the peak of his powers in whom, despite not playing at his usual fullback position, is seamlessly running the Toulouse attack.

His goal kicking always has been brilliant, but it’s his poise with ball in hand that has become imperious over the last year or so. Few players can take the ball to the line and delay a pass until the best option presents itself quite like Ramos.

Ramos may meet his match Sunday in Marcus Smith, however. The Englishman is known for his goose step and dangerous running style, and containing those skills is a real challenge, though it’s gotten even harder in the last two weeks, as Smith has taken his game to another level. 

Evidently, Owen Farrell’s recent announcement that he was taking a step back from international duty has spurred Smith on to show he’s worthy of the England No. 10 jersey.

He set that in motion by outplaying his direct competition for the role – George Ford – in Harlequins’ battering of the Sale Sharks, and then followed it with a scintillating display in Paris, scoring a brilliant solo try, before slotting a drop goal from nearly halfway against Racing.

All this means that the showdown at the Stoop on Sunday is set to deliver fireworks. With two international-caliber 10s facing off, alongside two incredibly imposing packs and scoops of talent in the backs, Harlequins against Toulouse is without question the match to watch this weekend.