Tag Archives: Louis Picamoles

Top 14 Preview: Toulouse

Toulouse_badgeThe History

With 19 French championships and five Heineken Cups to their name, Stade Toulousain are perhaps the greatest club in rugby history. Having won the first edition of the Heineken Cup in 1996, Toulouse have been involved every year since. In the last six seasons, they have won three French titles and a H Cup. Toulouse have been involved in the last 20 French championship semi-finals. The longevity of their success is phenomenal, and the club plans to persist.

In February 2013 the club opened a state-of-the-art training facility, fully kitted out with gym, video analysis room, recovery areas and much more. The new training centre allows Toulouse to focus on their commitment to developing French players from within. Toulouse are also an integral part of plans to build a ‘Cité du Rugby’ (an interactive museum of world rugby) on the island of Ramier near the centre of the city. With a budget of €35.4 million, Stade Toulousain are still the biggest club in France.

The Setting

The city of Toulouse lies in the Midi-Pyrénées region in the south of France. With a population of over 440,000 la ville rose is the fourth-largest city in the country. Stade Toulousain’s home is the 19,500-capacity Stade Ernest-Wallon. In recent years, the big games have been moved to the 36,000-capacity Stadium Municipal de Toulouse (also on on Ramier Island), but refurbishment for Euro 2016 means the club won’t have access until late 2015, a blow to revenue.

Last Season

Arrière, c'est aussi joué tout seul

Clément Poitrenaud, with the Toulouse forwards in the background. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Toulouse finished the regular season table in third, but were a disappointing 11 points behind second-placed Toulon. That gave Guy Novès’ men a home barrages match, where they dealt with Racing Metro. The semi-final loss to Toulon that followed was crushing for Novès, who questioned the club’s direction and recruitment policy in the aftermath. Toulouse looked threatening, but Toulon’s ability to score points was the only aspect of the game that mattered.

In the Heineken Cup, Toulouse failed to advance from the group stages for the first time since 2007. After dropping into the Challenge Cup, a weakened team was downed by USAP.


After such an unsatisfactory campaign, Toulouse are focused on winning the Top 14. While a Heineken Cup success would be welcome, it is domestically that les Toulousains will concentrate. That focus has seen a slight shift in policy at a club famed for its strong “made in France” playing core. With the doublons (games on the same weekends as international fixtures) still a challenging feature of the Top 14, Novès’ transfer policy this summer was centered on “foreigners of top-quality”. Toulouse lost to Agen (away), USAP (home) and Toulon (away) during the Six Nations last season. Noves is hoping that won’t be repeated.

The Coach

Guy Noves

This man is Stade Toulousain. (c) chris_3164.

Born in Toulouse, 259 appearances on the wing for Stade Toulousain and the club’s coach since 1988 in which time he has won 10 French championships and four Heineken Cups; if ever a club was intrinsically tied up with an individual, it is Toulouse with Guy Novès. Searingly intelligent, irrationally angry, optimistic and despairing in differing circumstances, the 59-year-old’s passion for the club is inspirational. There was an unsettling sense that Novès was tiring of the constant challenge last season, a feeling that Toulouse are a force in decline.

However, Novès insists he is ready for the new season, refreshed and motivated. He has called on his French internationals in particular to step up and be counted in the Top 14. Whenever he does decide to retire, it is likely that Novès will finish on a winning note, leaving by the back door without fuss.

Transfer Activity

Capped 14 times for the All Blacks, Hosea Gear is exactly the type of signing Novès wanted. The 29-year-old wing is a powerful finisher coming off the back of a Super Rugby season in which he scored eight tries for the Hurricanes. With Vincent Clerc being nursed back from a knee injury, Gear’s impact will be crucial. Springbok Chiliboy Ralepelle is another big-name addition, although the hooker will only arrive in October after the Rugby Championship. William Servat will hope to retire properly this season.

Hosea Gear

Gear adds explosive strength out wide. (c) Patrick Subotkiewiez.

Another new signing delayed until October is Jano Vermaak (28). The South African scrumhalf joins from the Bulls to provide competition for Jean-Marc Doussain. Completing the quartet of new top-class foreigners is Joe Tekori, moving from Castres. The explosive Samoan’s ability to cover lock and the back-row will be useful. Novès has brought in two French players in creative outhalf Jean-Pascal Barraque (22) from Biarritz and the athletic flanker Yacouba Camara (19) from Massy. Both are excellent prospects.

Key Players

Thierry Dusautoir is captain and one of the greatest leaders by example. His work-rate in defence often overshadows the excellent work The Dark Destroyer does in attack, freeing up others to do what they do best. Louis Picamoles appreciates the opportunity to carry as often as possible, and at 27 is hitting his prime. The France number eight is simply very difficult to tackle. His powerful hand-off is matched by a high degree of strength in the hips and legs, making low tackles no guarantee. The more he sees of the ball, the better Toulouse are.

Luke McAlister is the premier outhalf in France at his best, but there are days when you have to wonder if he is an outhalf at all. His powerful running can tear teams to shreds, but it is his ability to direct play around the pitch that provides doubts. If Toulouse are going to win the Top 14, McAlister needs a good season. In the centre, Gaël Fickou faces the task of replacing the retired Yannick Jauzion. Still only 19, Fickou has a different style but possesses all the skills needed to make himself the best centre in the league over the next three years.

Essai de Fickou

Fickou must replace a legend of the club in Yannick Jauzion. (c) Pierre-Selim.

In the engine room, the likes of Yoann Maestri, Romain Millo-Chluski, Census Johnston and Gurthrö Steenkamp will be busy getting their hands dirty. At close to 140kg, Johnston is a man mountain but he can play a bit too. At loosehead, Steenkamp will miss the opening rounds due to the Rugby Championship. Maestri is one of the most complete locks in France at 25, while Millo-Chluski (30) and Patricio Albacete do the unglamorous work. Out wide, the likes of Yoann Huget and Clément Poitrenaud offer a suave counter-attacking threat.

Irish Connection

While he’s not strictly involved with Toulouse any longer, Trevor Brennan maintains strong ties with the club. The two-time Heineken Cup winner runs the De Danú bar in Toulouse, which is a must-visit on any rugby trip to la ville rose. There is still a Brennan on the books at Stade Toulousain, in the former Ireland lock’s 14-year-old son Daniel. Already the focus of a Midi Olympique article, the 6ft 2ins, 121kg prop says he would consider playing for France if the opportunity arose. One for the future as Toulouse look to return to the summit of French club rugby.

Possible Starting XV

15. Huget 14. Matanavou, 13. Fritz, 12. Fickou, 11. Gear, 10. McAlister, 9. Doussain, 8. Picamoles, 7. Nyanga, 6. Dusautoir, 5. Maestri, 4. Albacete, 3. Johnston, 2. Ralepelle, 1. Steenkamp


Photos: Pierre-Selim, chris_3164, Patrick Subotkiewiez.

Scout’s Report: France

In what will be a regular feature on The Touchline during the Six Nations, Scout’s Report discusses what we can expect from Ireland’s next opponent. We look at France’s performance against Italy and try to pick out their strengths and weaknesses ahead of the game with Ireland on Saturday.



France were the victors in this fixture last season, 25-22 in the Aviva. (c) Liam Coughlan.

France scored four tries as they beat Italy 30-12 in Stade de France last Saturday. However, the scoreline and number of tries is misleading in terms of how the game actually played out. Italy enjoyed a large amount of possession and territory, particularly in the first half when most of the rugby was played inside the French half of the pitch. So why was it that Italy were able to keep their hands on the ball for such long periods?

One of the major reasons was the French defence. Whether it was a tactical decision, or simply the lack of aggression which Philippe Saint-André has highlighted since the game, France rarely competed at the breakdown against Italy. Instead, one-off tacklers made their hits and the rest of the team fanned out in the defensive line. In today’s international game, where we’re used to teams making every effort to steal or slow down opposition ball at ruck time, it was an odd sight.

Indeed, France seemed happy to let Italy retain possession. The Italians’ cluelessness in using it justified the French style of defence. With just one tackler on the deck, and often three or four Italians going in to seal the ruck, France usually had numbers up in defence. This allowed them to get up fast on the outside and shut down the Italian options.

So if France employ a similar defensive set up against Ireland, how can we break it down? With the likes of Rougerie and Fofana getting up fast in midfield it can often seem like the only option is kicking the ball away. Last Saturday, the weakness in France’s defence lay close to the rucks. With their line up quickly out wide, the defenders around the fringes were noticeably slower.

Conor Murray could have a key role to play around the fringes of the breakdown. (c) Ken Bohane.

Italy failed to expose this weakness. New coach Jacques Brunel has emphasised his desire for Italy to play a more expansive style of rugby. That’s great, but last Saturday it lost the game for Italy. Brunel’s side consistently sought to move the ball into wide channels, but France’s advantageous numbers in defence forced Italian errors, two of which resulted directly in French tries.

Italy’s scrumhalf Edoardo Gori gave a brief glimpse of what Italy should have been doing early in the second half. He picked quick ball from the base of a ruck and ran at the defensive pillar. Luke McLean came off his wing, ran a lovely line off Gori’s outside shoulder and the scrumhalf slipped McLean through for a clean line-break. Minutes earlier, the Italian forwards had made good yardage through strong, aggressive carries off Gori, close in to the rucks. Late in the game, replacement 9 Fabio Semenzato made plenty of headway with his snipes around the fringes, but it was too late for Italy by then.

With Italy enjoying lots of possession, where did those four French tries come from? This is where the true strength of this French team lies. The first try saw the Italian defence give Aurelien Rougerie too much space and he burst through the line and around fullback Andrea Masi. The second came from an Italian scrum on halfway, as France came up with a huge drive for a turnover. No. 8 Louis Picamoles’ good work was followed by a breathtaking individual run from Julien Malzieu (check the video at the bottom of this piece).

France’s third came after a misdirected Kris Burton pass was intercepted by Wesley Fofana, allowing Francois Trinh-Duc to chip ahead and resulting in Vincent Clerc touching down. The final score by Fofana saw him beat McLean one-on-one with his speed to get outside, then strength to fend him off. All four tries were examples of the brilliance of France’s individuals. They have players who will punish any mistake.

ST vs USAP - Louis Picamoles

Toulouse's Picamoles is one of the danger men for France. (c) Pierre-Selim.

Saturday’s win over Italy didn’t see any fantastic team work or intelligent system of attack from the French. Often, they actually struggled to put together good passages of play and go beyond 6 or 7 phases. They relied on their strong ball carriers to individually get over the gainline. Ireland’s defence will have to be far more aggressive than against Wales. For Wales’ George North, Jonathan Davies and Toby Faletau, France have their own explosive big men in Malzieu, Rougerie and Picamoles. Ireland have to get off the defensive line explosively.

Where else can France be targeted? Their restarts were appalling against Italy, both receiving and taking. The French chase was non-existant on Trinh-Duc’s drop-offs, when he actually got them on the field. Receiving drop-offs, France seemed genuinely uninterested in securing the ball. The likes of Paul O’Connell and Rob Kearney excel at retrieving restarts and must be used for this purpose.

France’s lineout stuttered against the Italians too, losing three of their own throw-ins. Saint-Andre has made four changes up front, but Ireland must go after the French here. Defensively, the French maul was very weak. Italy made some great gains there, and should have looked to it more. Again, Brunel’s game plan counted against his team. The French constantly competed in the air on Italy’s throw, often with two pods going up. This meant that Italy’s maul could get a good early rumble forward, and Ireland should look to do the same.

Obviously, we will see a more aggressive and urgent French performance on Saturday, as demanded by Saint-André. Their restarts and lineouts are something that will most likely be improved be a better attitude. If they decide to employ a similar defensive pattern, then Ireland will certainly make better use of the possession than Italy did. Defensively, Ireland cannot afford to give the French individuals space or opportunity. Kidney’s should travel to Paris knowing that this French team is beatable.


Highlights of the four tries from France’s win over Italy:


Photos courtesy:  Ken Bohane, Pierre-Selim, Liam Coughlan.