Top 14 club-by-club 2020/21 season preview: Toulouse
Toulouse have been quiet in the rugby transfer market as head coach Ugo Mola looks to build on his youth dynasty.
Alexi Bales. Toulouse have been noticeably quiet in the player market – with their academy production line in full flow, who needs big-name transfers? But, after losing Sebastien Bezy to Clermont, they needed cover for Antoine Dupont. The experienced Bales is a smart signing from La Rochelle.
Florian Verhaeghe. Given their youth policy, it seems strange that Toulouse would let 23-year-old lock Florian Verhaeghe go, but he’s heading to Montpellier next season. A mention, too, for Scotland’s Richie Gray, who was there in the tough times.
“We are training to attack [the game] hard in September and be ready because, for us, the objectives, the most important matches, come immediately” Sofiane Guitoune (France Bleu)
Toulouse are not the only side facing a two-step domestic and European start to the season. There are five more Top 14 sides across the two competitions, as well as five Premiership and five Pro14 clubs.
But they are notable in having set out their Champions Cup stall. After winning the 2019 Top 14 title, and having fallen at the semi-final stage of the Champions Cup at Leinster in the same year, the four-time European champions have their eyes on a prize they last won back in 2012.
Like Clermont, they lost many players to the World Cup. Unlike Clermont, their returning internationals made a noticeable difference, helping drag Toulouse up from 11th when the tournament in Japan finished to seventh when the season ended early. Their 26 points from nine Top 14 games after the World Cup ended compares more-than favourably with the 14 they managed in eight domestic games during it. Only Racing did better.
But Toulouse now have to exceed rugby expectations all the time. The long-forgotten high-tempo power-and-pace game they remastered under Mola needs to be faster, higher and stronger as rivals know now what to expect.
Mola knows that – and he knows exactly where to look for the next crop of players. Home. Toulouse’s academy is back to doing what it does best – churning out talent after talent after talent.
It is noticeable that they have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, bringing in just two senior players – Richie Arnold returns to join brother Rory in the engine room; the experienced Alexi Bales – a smart signing from La Rochelle as cover for Antoine Dupont. But president Didier Lacroix may rue missing out on a season of Alex Lozowski, who signed for Montpellier when the Toulouse path went cold at the height of the pandemic.
The most ambitious signing is probably an academy player. Scrum-half Baptiste Germain is just 19 and appears destined for future senior international honours. This is what Toulouse do now – mould and develop young talent. It’s what they used to do, and what they should always have done.
There have been some key changes in the staff. Forwards coach Regis Sonnes, whose influence stretched beyond the boundaries of his remit, has been replaced in the coaching set-up by former Toulouse flanker Jean Bouilhou.
Those backroom changes shouldn’t make much difference. This is Mola’s empire – and he’s building for the long haul.
Richie Arnold; Alexi Bales
Maks Van Dyk; Richie Gray; Florian Verhaeghe; Gillian Galan; Pierre Pages; Sebastien Bezy; Tristan Tedder; Maxime Mermoz; Theo Belan
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