La Rochelle v Toulouse
Live on BT Sport 2 and Channel 4
Toulouse gunning for more European glory
There is a French takeover at Twickenham this weekend with Toulouse facing La Rochelle in the final of this year’s Champions Cup. Toulouse’s pedigree is second to none with the club the most successful in the history of the competition.
Four Champions Cup triumphs and twice beaten finalists is an excellent record although Toulouse will be determined to end their 11-year wait for European silverware.
Toulouse are leading the way in the Top 14 this season and the French giants have been slowly inching their way back towards the top table in European rugby. Their progress was highlighted by runs to the semi-final over the last two seasons but Toulouse appear ready to take the next step after reaching this year’s showpiece final.
It has been a grind at times for them but Toulouse have found a way to win during the competition. Outstanding scrum-half Antoine Dupont scored twice in their 40-33 victory at Munster in the last-16. Romain Ntamack kicked all their points in their 21-12 win at rivals Clermont Auvergne in the quarter-finals and Toulouse overcame more domestic opposition in the last-four as they defeated Bordeaux 21-9.
La Rochelle bidding for first Champions Cup
La Rochelle head to London after their best run in the competition with the French club competing in the Champions Cup final for the first time. Currently just one point and place behind Toulouse in the Top 14, La Rochelle cannot be underestimated despite their lack of experience at this stage of a European competition.
La Rochelle dealt impressively with their Premiership opponents after winning at Gloucester in the first knockout round before defeating Sale 45-21 in the last-eight.
Their 32-23 win over four-times champions Leinster in the semi-final was an exceptional result as they upset the odds.
Tries from Gregory Alldritt and Will Skelton helped La Rochelle to a famous win to set up their all-French showdown.
There is no shortage of experience on the touchline though, with head coach Ronan O’Gara looking to provide invaluable advice to his players. O’Gara won the Champions Cup, as a player, with Munster but is now focused on coaching La Rochelle to a historic success. The former Ireland fly-half will have an influential role to play if the first-time finalists are to topple Toulouse.
Toulouse are rightly favourites for this final although the margin is tight with the handicap only set at three points. The history of success and big game experience of Toulouse is an advantage over their final opponents with the four-time winners appearing to have the edge. The international quality of the likes of South Africa wing Cheslin Kolbe and Dupont are potential match winners.
The two teams are very familiar with each other and Toulouse have had the upper hand with six wins in their last seven games against La Rochelle. Three of Toulouse’s four European triumphs came with final wins over French opponents and this bodes well for their chances at Twickenham. It should be closely-contested, with all of Toulouse’s victories in the competition this season by no more than 12 points, but the favourites look primed to reassert their dominance of European rugby this weekend.
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