2024 Stade Toulousain vs Harlequin F.C. - Semi Finals

Three Takeaways From Toulouse's Investec Champions Cup Semifinal Victory

Three Takeaways From Toulouse's Investec Champions Cup Semifinal Victory

A look at three areas Stade Toulousain must work on ahead of its European Rugby Champions Cup final against Leinster Rugby at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

May 8, 2024 by Philip Bendon
Three Takeaways From Toulouse's Investec Champions Cup Semifinal Victory

European club rugby’s most successful outfit, Stade Toulousain, rubber-stamped its place in an eighth final appearance on Sunday afternoon.

Downing Gallagher Premiership side Harlequins in a high-octane, end-to-end shootout, the five-time champions have set up a date with four-times champion Leinster at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 25.

Racing into a 31-12 lead five minutes into the second half, it appeared to all be going to plan for the Top 14 champions. However, 14 unanswered points later, Toulouse would be fighting for its life, as Quins returned to within five points at 31-26 with 10 minutes to play.

Yet, as the team has done countless times over the years, Toulouse found an extra gear and ended up putting some gloss on the scoreline, as Argentine international Juan Cruz Mallía dove over to bring the score 38-26 following Thomas Ramos’s conversion.

As the breathless moments of a potential upset evaporated, and Toulouse fans started booking their tickets to London, the coaching staff will know there are several areas that will need to be addressed before facing Leinster. 

Here are three major things for Toulouse to look at ahead of the final:

Thomas Ramos' Kicking Key To Success

Quite possibly the best goal kicker in the game today, utility back Thomas Ramos has found himself on the outside looking in over the past few weeks. 

Starting the season as the first-choice fly-half due to Romain Ntamack’s injury would see Scotland international Blair Kinghorn claim Ramos’s usual No. 15 shirt. 

With Ntamack now firmly back in the driver’s seat at 10 and Kinghorn in red-hot form at fullback, the question is where the electric fullback now slots in. 

Working in his favor has been Kinghorn’s hot-and-cold run of form from the boot and the Scot’s gruesome broken nose, which may see him miss time. 

Should Kinghorn be fit for the final, his ability to play on the wing could allow both men to take to the pitch in the starting XV. 

One thing that remains clear is that against an ultra-aggressive and clinical Leinster side, goal-kicking will be key, and, in this department, Toulouse holds a clear upper hand should Ramos start.

The Halfback Battle

Rarely, if ever, has Toulouse faced a team with a scrumhalf even close to the level of their inspirational captain, Antoine Dupont. 

This is a reality they will have to face when they tackle their Irish rivals, who, in Jamison Gibson-Park, have a No. 9 who is as impactful to his team as Dupont is to Toulouse. 

Pulling the string masterfully, JGP is the heartbeat of Leinster’s attacking game and dictates the tempo with masterful precision. 

Following the retirement of iconic fly-half Johnny Sexton, Leinster now is even more reliant on the Kiwi-born No. 9. 

Playing a key role in all three of Leinster’s tries in its semifinal win over Northampton, JGP was the difference for his team in what unusually was a lackluster offensive display. Thus, his battle with Dupont will be worth the admission alone, as rarely have two halfbacks played at such a high level. 

In order to dull the Leinster offense, Dupont, in conjunction with his forwards, will need to be in JGP’s face from the off. Failure to do so, and the potent Leinster attack, will slot into their patterns and will be nigh on impossible to stop.

Double Ds (Discipline And Defense)

A dozen penalties and an 86% tackle success rate are not exactly world-beating stats for a side with designs on claiming a sixth title in two weeks. 

Certainly, the tackle rate can be chalked down to Harlequins' uber-dangerous backline, but the going won’t get any easier against Leinster. 

More concerningly, the 12 penalties could have been a lot worse had the French television directors not avoided hiding the most incriminating angles of Ntamack’s ludicrous challenge on Andre Esterhuizen. In reality, the fly-half should have been given his marching orders with a red card that could’ve swung the contest firmly in Quin's favor. 

Facing a team that can go through phases like Leinster will only ramp up the pressure on Toulouse’s defense. Should they crack like they did against Quins, they will find themselves pinned deep on the pitch and scoreboard.

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