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Hamilton: Expect all-French belter


Hamilton: French rugby is on its knees but this heavyweight collision will be a flair-filled belter

I love the Champions Cup, love the mad rush that happens leading up to the quarter-finals. This is a tournament that is drawn-out and disjointed as teams have had the Six Nations break. Players come back either on a high or a low and usually need a week off, so there is no momentum going into these quarter-finals.

It’s knockout rugby, a one-off game. If you look at history and the stats gone by for the quarter-finals, it’s really difficult to go away from home and win. But the rugby has opened up massively this season in terms of the way teams are playing, in terms of some of the performances of the players, and in terms of the some of the decisions that are being made.

This is one the best quarter-final set-ups I have ever seen across the board. All the games are really difficult to call, apart from one of the four. It’s going to be a brilliant weekend.

RACING 92 v TOULOUSE – Sunday, 3.15pm (Paris La Defense Arena)

French rugby is on its knees at the minute in terms of its identity, in terms of the direction they are trying to go in with the national team.

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It’s why this is a massive game, particularly for the integrity of French rugby in this tournament as these are the last two French teams left.

At least they are France’s best two teams, a pair that arrive into this European quarter-final with the most exciting brand of rugby as they have both massively benefited from a bit of overseas sparkle on their rosters.

Toulouse have got Cheslin Kolbe, an absolute world-beater at full-back this weekend, and they have got a fantastic pedigree of young players coming through their team.

Romain Ntamack has been playing 12, they have got Zach Holmes, the Aussie, at 10, and they have got Richie Grey back fit. Toulouse have got a monster pack and they will need and they are going to meet a very tough team in Racing.

The Parisians have got their own pedigree in this tournament after losing two finals in recent years. They have recruited so well. Finn Russell has been a sensation for them along with Irish Zebo. They have also got Virimi Vakatawa and Leone Nakawara.

The ability in both teams should ensure this contest is an absolute belter. The pitch will be interesting. Toulouse’s grass pitch is a disaster, it’s such a slow track, so how they will fare in this indoor amphitheatre set-up with an artificial pitch will be interesting.

Racing’s Remi Tales attempts a last second drop goal which would have taken the 2018 Champions Cup final against Leinster into extra time (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The venue is made for the kind of off-loading rugby they want to play and they will approach this fixture in the same way they did when they won there recently in the Top 14.

If they bring that passing game and get on the front foot, they can shock Racing. We have seen Racing before go into their shells, and that is why this is a really hard game to call.

Toulouse’s Yoann Huget dives for the ball during the December 2018 Champions Cup match at Wasps (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

If Toulouse come through and beat Racing, I don’t think you can look past them to potentially go all the way. But based on season gone by, based on this season at Leinster where they came up against a well-drilled, strategic opposition and really struggled, it’s clear that flair and power can only Toulouse so far.

This result will come down to game management and have Toulouse got this in the locker? Have they got the fitness to be able to compete with guys that are just as big but slightly fitter? This is going to be a real test.

VERDICT – I’m going to go for Racing, but only just. This is going to be a really high scoring game.

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Hamilton: French rugby is on its knees but this heavyweight collision will be a flair-filled belter
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