SO WHERE’S EUROPE’S TOP RUGBY PLAYED? ASK TOULOUSE & DUPONT
Toulouse made European Rugby history just before Antoine Dupont was named European Player of the Year
Toulouse are European Champions for a record-breaking fifth time in their history – underscoring the might of French club rugby in 2020/21.
Saturday’s 22-17 win over La Rochelle, confirmed Toulouse as the most successful team in the competition’s history, moving one title ahead of Leinster.
Ten thousand excited fans filled Twickenham for a match that was jolted by a key event in the 28th minute. Levani Botia caught Maxime Medard high and, after a conversation with his TMO, referee, Luke Pearce had no option but to show a red card to the La Rochelle centre. In a close game of fine margins, this decision, ultimately, will be the one that La Rochelle look back on as the moment that a Heineken Champions Cup victory slipped away.
A man to the good in the second half, Toulouse gained the ascendancy. When Juan Cruz Mallia, only in the team to cover for the injured Zack Holmes, crossed over in the 60th minute, Toulouse took a large step to European victory. La Rochelle would not go down easily however, and Kerr-Barlow’s late-try created a grand-stand finish. Toulouse were able to dig in and hold on to victory that they deserved for their second half performance.
Whilst Toulouse were holding La Rochelle at bay in the dying moments, the impact that 10,000 fans were having was incredible. Despite being a neutral crowd, it was a great sight to see; spectators back at TOP level rugby, a sign that normality is retuning and that we will be back to having packed out stadiums again soon.
Captaining his side in the absence of normal skipper, Julien Marchand, Antoine Dupont’s already memorable day became even more special when he was named as EPCR European Player of the Year. After a stellar season for both club and country, Dupont is a deserved winner and becomes the first Frenchman to win the award and the fifth player to win the award whilst representing a TOP 14 side. He follows in the footsteps on Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon, 2013), Steffon Armitage (Toulon, 2014), Nick Abendanon (Clermont, 2015) and Leone Nakarawa (Racing, 2018).
It was a memorable day for the Ntamack family. A post-match photo between Toulouse fly-half Romain Ntamack and his dad, Emile provided a great flashback to the 2003 Heineken Cup Final. Having won the trophy, Emile Ntamack posed with the trophy and a four-year-old Romain on his shoulders. 18 years later and the father and son replicated the photo, with roles reversed on this occasion.
It was double European glory for TOP 14 this weekend. On Friday, Montpellier won the European Challenge Cup to offset their disappointing TOP 14 season after a narrow victory over Leicester Tigers.
These successes surely cement TOP 14 as the dominant league in European club rugby presently. TOP 14 has the best players, the best rugby and the best teams in Europe and long may it continue!
Let us know your thoughts on the two finals and whether YOU think that TOP 14 is the best league in the world!