2024 Leinster Rugby vs Stade Toulousain - Champions Cup Final

A Selection Headache Awaits Toulouse Ahead Of Investec Champions Cup Final

A Selection Headache Awaits Toulouse Ahead Of Investec Champions Cup Final

Stade Toulousain is chasing a historic sixth Investec Champions Cup title against Leinster. Who will start at FB? Will it be Blair Kinghorn or Thomas Ramos?

May 24, 2024 by Philip Bendon
A Selection Headache Awaits Toulouse Ahead Of Investec Champions Cup Final

Stade Toulousain is on the verge of history once again, chasing an unprecedented sixth Investec Champions Cup title.

Winners of the inaugural title in 1996, Toulouse has remained an ever-present power throughout the tournaments long and winding history, winning titles in 2003, 2005, 2010 and 2021.

Since its last triumph, one side has stood in its way of another star on the jersey. Irish powerhouse Leinster Rugby has dumped the men in black out of the past two semifinals in comprehensive fashion.

Thus, Saturday’s clash with their old rivals at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium presents the Top 14 outfit with an opportunity to right some wrongs.

Spearheaded by the other worldly talent that is Antoine Dupont, Toulouse truly has a world-class squad, with international stars littered throughout the matchday 23.

In what by and large is a settled squad, there is one key selection that remains up for debate ahead of the final.

Due to an injury to fly-half Romain Ntamack in last year’s Rugby World Cup warm-up matches, regular fullback Thomas Ramos began the season in the No. 10 shirt. As one would expect, the world-class fullback did a sterling job in guiding his team through an unbeaten pool stage before Ntamack returned.

Just as his teammate returned, Ramos would depart through injury. 

Coinciding with Ramos’s departure was the incredible form of new signing Blair Kinghorn, who had thoroughly made the No. 15 shirt his own since joining from Edinburgh.

The 27-year-old Scottish international has long promised to be a truly elite operator, and his move to France certainly has brought out the best in him.

Now firmly back in the fold, Ramos has faced an uphill battle to displace the rangy Scot and, as such, caused a mini selection headache for head coach Ugo Mola and his staff.

The Debate: Blair Kinghorn Or Thomas Ramos?

Taking over not only the fullback duties, but the goal kicking ones too, Kinghorn has become close to irreplaceable in the starting lineup. In normal terms, this would see the debate end. However, in Ramos, Toulouse possess arguably the best goal kicker in professional rugby.

Simply metronomic from the kicking tee, Ramos could prove crucial against a Leinster side that rarely coughs up easy points. The potential for the fullback to bag early penalty goals is not something Toulouse can afford to give up. With a career kicking percentage in the high 80s, Ramos is a serial game-winner.

Kinghorn, on the other hand, is more of a streaky goal kicker who hovers closer to the 70% success rate marker. When in the groove, Kinghorn has the ability to slot goals from anywhere up to 60 meters. When slightly off, he can miss shots Ramos would consider a gimme.

In attack, both players are brilliant distributors and strong runners, but Kinghorn holds the clear advantage for his ability in both the air and to get his hands free in the tackle to slip a key offload. This ability has added another dimension to the already explosive Toulouse attack.

The Outcome For Toulouse Rugby

Based on reports coming out of the French media, there is a very real possibility Kinghorn could be shifted to the wing to accommodate Ramos’s return to the starting XV.

This, on paper, would be the simplest solution but does throw up a few question marks around the pairs communication as a combination against a strong Leinster kicking game.

Kinghorn, who has featured on the wing at test level, is more familiar with both the fullback and fly-half positions and would be tasked with dealing the top quality Leinster wingers. His move also would see either Juan Cruz Mallia or Matthis Lebel drop out of the starting lineup and possibly the matchday 23.

This could leave Toulouse a little light on one of two fronts.

Firstly, it could see them either lose out on fly-half cover, albeit Kinghorn or Ramos could shift in if necessary. Secondly, it would remove an element of out-and-out pace against a Leinster team that is set to welcome back flyers Hugo Keenan and Jimmy O’Brien to their matchday squad.

In short, the riskiest solution appears to not include Ramos due to his ability to accumulate points at a rapid rate. While he is a slight tick behind Kinghorn in attacking flair, he is no slouch.

With so much on the line, it would be surprising if Mola were to gamble and leave Ramos on the bench, which in turn, would see Kinghorn slip into the role of impact sub.

Champagne problems for a champagne club.

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