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Toulouse-Harlequins: the favorites and favorites of our special correspondent

FAVORITES.

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Toulouse-Harlequins: the favorites and favorites of our special correspondent

FAVORITES

The force of habit. Already the most successful club in the Champions Cup (5 crowns), Toulouse wants more and establishes its domination over the competition by lifting the trophy for the 6th time on May 25 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. This will be the eighth continental final for Haut-Garonnais players, a record shared by Leinster, their future opponent and bête noire in recent seasons. Except that, this time, the Irish do not seem to be as sovereign and conquering (they suffered in the semi against Northampton) and that they will not play at home unlike the last three semi-finals which they had (largely) won against Toulouse. The golden generation of Dupont and other Ntamacks has hardened. It remains to be confirmed after the last title of 2021 won against La Rochelle. It was in Twickenham, London. A sign ?

The outings follow one another and the big performances follow one another. At just 21 years old, Paul Costes played in his first Champions Cup semi-final and he shone again. Races, passes after contact, the Toulouse center was in all the right places. And it seems to be impervious to pressure. “I'm not going to be demagogic and say that it was a match like any other,” he nevertheless admits. There was pressure but I try to transform it in a positive way. The nugget of the Stadium is already looking ahead to what will surely be the most important match of his young career: “This pressure is likely to increase tenfold for the final so we will have to have a good mental approach. It will be the biggest of the match for all of us” When talking about his upcoming duel with the Irishman Garry Ringrose, he smiles: “I have an advantage over him, I know him. He doesn't know me..."

Evil tongues say that there is no atmosphere in Toulouse and that the supporters of the Stadium are often simple spectators. Let's hope they saw this semi-final which totally makes them lie. For this decisive match relocated to the football neighbors of Téfécé, it was a real red and black tide that swept over the Stadium. From midday, groups of supporters - notably that of the very welcoming "Toulouse red overalls" - had taken over the surroundings of the stadium for giant, good-natured picnics. And the “fans” of the Stadium then set the Stadium on fire, deploying tifos and tirelessly encouraging their protégés. A warm welcome that manager Ugo Mola was keen to salute: “Even if we are one of the clubs which had the opportunity to experience quite a bit, it is never nothing to play a semi-final at home, particularly in this forum and with this audience. Thank you to all our supporters, to the players who did what was necessary to be there and to our pleasure of playing in a European Cup final in three weeks.”

CLAW STRIKES

At half-time, everyone thought the Mass was said (31-12, 5 tries scored by Toulouse). The Stadium was well into the race and - objectively - we believed that the bill was going to be even steeper for Harlequins after 80 minutes. Well no, the English (finally) woke up and managed to score two tries, after returning from the locker room, which completely revived the game. And sent a shiver down the spines of the Toulouse supporters... Which manager Ugo Mola regretted: “We generally controlled our first half, but returning from the locker room was tricky. We endure a lot of offensive situations, we no longer get our hands on the ball, there are a few outings which give fairly easy balls, a few missed tackles... It gives a positive dynamic back to the Harlequins and allows them to come back in the match.” Fortunately, Ugo Mola's players managed to turn their backs before accelerating a second time to seal the fate of the match. Be careful, however, such relaxation against an opponent like Leinster could cost much more.

The violent image revived some old bad memories. In the 67th minute of the match, Antoine Dupont tried to scratch a ball in a group and was then violently cleared in the face by hooker Jack Walker. The Stadium screams as loud as it can. But, after long minutes of observing the images on the giant screens of the stadium, the Irish referee Andrew Brace decided to only give him a yellow card. New bronca... This bad gesture inevitably recalled the action which injured the captain of the Blues in the face against Namibia, during the last World Cup. Ultimately, more fear than harm. But the choice not to inflict a red card on the Quins player is surprising to say the least. To put it politely.

Certainly, this match was crazy for a long time, with a lot of balls played by hand on both sides. But the downside of this Toulouse outing is surely their indiscipline: Antoine Dupont and his teammates were in fact sanctioned 12 times, compared to only 7 penalties conceded by Harlequins. Ugo Mola prefers to remember that his team “left ammunition on the way” and that it lacked “alternation in (his) rugby”. We repeat ourselves, but in the final, the ultimate match where every point counts, this indiscipline could cost much more. Especially against Leinster, where Ross Byrne managed to take on the role left vacant after the retirement of Jonathan Sexton.

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