Gray urges Toulouse to usurp Leinster in battle of Champions Cup royalty

first_imgIn a battle between the two most successful sides in Champions Cup history Toulouse must not be too loose. French rugby’s aristocrats have relocated their joie de vivre this season but sometimes they get carried away.Last weekend offered an example. They eventually sealed their place in the Top 14 play-offs with four rounds to go but not before conceding 44 points to Clermont Auvergne in front of 32,000 spectators at Le Stadium who were treated to 10 tries in a match that was decided by the final one four minutes from time.“I think it is fair to say that, if we concede 44 points to Leinster, we will not likely be appearing in next month’s final,” says Richie Gray, the Scottish international second‑row who joined Toulouse from Castres in 2016. “We got out of jail and the feeling in the dressing room afterwards was one of relief. We were excited to still be at the top of the league but knew we would need to sharpen up this weekend.” Quick guide Toulouse and Leinster: kings of Europe Ugo Monye Read more Show Toulouse and Leinster are the only sides to have won four European Cups, with the French side also twice runners-up. Leinster are the defending champions, while Toulouse haven’t won the tournament since 2010 Was this helpful? Champions Cup Toulouse’s revival has been timely at a moment when French rugby is, internationally, at its lowest point since they became a force in the 1950s, with one top-three finish in the last eight Six Nations. Their style of play, based on having a go from anywhere and making improbable offloads, has been noted by Les Bleus’ head coach, Jacques Brunel, who has injected his squad with youthful enthusiasm. Nice attack, shame about the defence.Domestically the French game is buoyant. The last round of the Top 14 attracted more than 130,000 spectators, boosted by Toulouse playing at Le Stadium. The average gate was 18,620, a figure none of the host Premiership sides reached in averaging 12,300. The average in the Pro14 was 6,815 with Leinster attracting 30% of the total for their match against Glasgow. Only 21 of the 154 matches in the Top 14 this season have attracted a crowd below 10,000. “We have a number of young players coming through,” Gray says. “They do not have any fear and just want to go out and play. It makes it a great club to be at but it also involves a lot of hard work. The coaches leave no stone unturned, very thorough in the way they prepare us. The key against Leinster will be being clinical. We were not when we were in Dublin in January and we paid for it.”Leinster are close to full strength, with Johnny Sexton making his first appearance since the Six Nations. All of their players bar one – the wing James Lowe, a New Zealander – have played for Ireland this season. Toulouse, as they did against Clermont, have picked the France scrum-half Antoine Dupont at fly‑half with Romain Ntamack on the bench, along with the 32-year‑old wing Maxime Médard, the one survivor from their victory in the 2010 final against Biarritz in Paris.“We are level on four final victories with Leinster but it is about trying to go as far as we can this year rather than getting ahead of them in terms of titles,” Gray says. “It would be nice, though.” The Breakdown: sign up and get our weekly rugby union email. Share on Twitter Share on WhatsApp Thank you for your feedback. Toulouse Reuse this content Read more Share on Facebook Since you’re here…center_img Share on Pinterest Leinster features … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. The Observer Topics Toulouse Four wins (1996, 2003, 05, 10), twice runners-upLeinster Four wins (2009, 2011, 12, 18)Toulon Three wins (2013, 14, 15)Leicester Two wins (2001, 02), three times runners-upMunster Two wins (2006, 08), twice runners-upSaracens Two wins (2016, 17), once runners-upWasps Two wins (2004, 07) Share via Email Both sides have won the tournament four times. Toulouse’s last triumph came in 2010, though, 12 months after Leinster’s first win, and their most recent appearance in a semi‑final was the following year, when they lost to Leinster 32-23 at the Aviva Stadium, Sunday’s venue.“The league is not the bigger priority,” says Gray, 29, when asked if Toulouse are living up to the French stereotype of putting the Top 14 before Europe. “We have not won the title since 2012 but this remains a club with huge ambitions. We want to do well in both competitions and one does not take precedence over the other. I can’t speak for other French clubs.” Hide Support The Guardian “We have been playing some good stuff,” Gray says. “We take confidence from our season so far and we know we can beat Leinster, having done so in October. The return match was a different matter, a day when we could not break free from their defensive shackles. We know we are going to have to be at our best, in defence and attack.“Leinster are arguably the best team in Europe and we know the challenge that faces us. I do not think it is unfair that a supposedly neutral ground is one they are used to playing on. It is a huge privilege to play at the Aviva Stadium and we are happy to do so. The boys are looking forward to it.”Gray is a natural fit for Toulouse. After he broke into the Scotland side at the start of the decade, he was likened to French second-rows of the past, a swashbuckling forward at his happiest gambolling around the field, the ball in one hand with the other used to fend off tacklers, and comfortable off-loading. Rugby union Israel Folau finds few friends and now faces a lifestyle choice of his own Share on LinkedIn Share on Messenger Brad Barritt: ‘I had to be selfish and tell my three-year-old son to fill the ice machine’last_img

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