Can Toulouse claim a fifth Champions Cup title season?

Can Toulouse claim a fifth Champions Cup title season?

It was the turn of the new century that saw Toulouse become a European giant with the French club reaching the European Champions Cup final five times in the space of seven years, winning three. Yet almost a decade later and the 2010 Final would be the last time Toulouse have reached the final stage of the competition.

However, with Xavier Garbajosa at the helm, Toulouse could, in fact, add to their four titles in 2020, a decade after their last victory. Toulouse reached the quarter-final of the Champions Cup during the 2016/17 season where they were comprehensively beaten 41-16 by Munster with that side baring little resemblance to current set up.

A young Julien Marchand and Arthur Bonneval are the only two players that still remain in the squad with the former now the club's captain. From the starting pack, Cyril Baille has become an anchor in the side's scrum while the likes of Joe Tekori and Francois Cros continue to shine for the side. Other starters included in the likes of Leonardo Ghiraldhini, Census Johnston, Yoann Maestri, Yacouba Camara and the French legend Thierry Dusautoir have either hung up their boots or have moved to other clubs.

In the backs, Sebastien Bezy, Jean-Marc Doussain, Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard are the only remaining members of the squad, meaning just 8 of the starting 23 that faced Munster that day remain on the club's books.

Garbajosa has rebuilt the squad since spending one season in the Challenge Cup before returning with a bang last season reaching the semi-finals of the competition and winning the Top 14 in the same season. Garbajosa can put down a lot of his success to the talent coming through the ranks in Toulouse with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos all shining for club and country with a number of players like Francois Cros, Julien Marchand and Peato Mauvaka earmarked for a bright future while still performing at club level.

However, it would not be fair not to credit Toulouse's excellent work in recruiting top talent. South Africans Maks van Dyk, Rynhardt Elstadt and Cheslin Kolbe have all been brilliant for the Top 14 side as to have the likes of All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Jerome Kaino who haven't just come to Toulouse to pick up a retirement payday.

So why could Toulouse one better than they did last season and actually reach the Champions Cup Final?

During the 2014/15 season, England's stars returned to their club sooner than a number of the other World Cup stars, following their disappointing World Cup campaign. Saracens would go on to win the Champions Cup and Toulouse could benefit in the sameway this year.

Toulouse were near full strength last weekend against Montpellier, barring a few injuries including one to Antoine Dupont. Meanwhile, other clubs have slowly reintroduced their test stars back into the fold.

The World Cup meant Toulouse have had a slow start to the Top 14 season but they look as if they are almost at their best in the Champions Cup.

Toulouse also look far more well rounded this season adding some more quality to their pack with the arrival of former Wallaby lock Rory Arnold, who has built on the Arnold name in Toulouse following his brother's Richies stint in France.

Toulouse's pack is complementing their backs

If you take a look at Toulouse's backline it's easy to think that it is their main weapon with Zack Holmes, Romain Ntamack, Pita Ahki and Thomas Ramos bossing proceedings with the threatening Cheslin Kolbe, Maxime Medard, Yoann Huget and Lucas Tauzin out wide.

But it is their pack that has stepped up to the plate in the opening three games. Statistically, Toulouse have the strongest maul have gained more metres from their driving maul than any other side (84), by some margin making over 30 more metres than the next best the Harlequins.

Their lineout, scrum and ruck success is also operating at over 90% despite coming up against powerful packs in the form of Montpellier, Connacht and Gloucester.

The Road Ahead

Toulouse will want to top their group and have a favourable draw heading into the knock out stages of the competition and a win away from home against Montpellier would do them the world of good. The defending Top 14 champions have had little success in Montpellier over recent seasons with their last victory at Altrad Stadium coming in 2015. A trip to the Sportsground and a home game against Gloucester would follow in mid-January.

Toulouse do have the quality in their squad as well as the depth in their squad to potentially win the competition and the next three Champions Cup matches could show just how capable they are of claiming their fifth title. The squad has proven winners in the likes of Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina and Cheslin Kolbe as well as youngsters ready and capable of being champions come the end of the season.

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